French mayors hold anti-riot rallies as violence eases
July 4, 2023 11:14 AM
Mayors across France held rallies Monday calling for an end to violent clashes that erupted after a teen was shot dead by police last week, as signs emerged that the unrest was beginning to ease.
The government has battled riots and looting since 17-year-old Nahel M. was killed by an officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday, rekindling long-standing accusations of systemic racism among security forces.
Monday's demonstrations calling for a "return to republican order" came after the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was rammed by a burning car, prompting widespread outrage.
"Democracy itself has been attacked... this can't continue and it won't," said Vincent Jeanbrun, the conservative mayor of L'Hay-les-Roses, whose home was attacked early Sunday.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the deployment of 45,000 police and gendarmes would be maintained on Monday and Tuesday nights.
"The priority is to ensure the return to order," she announced.
President Emmanuel Macron visited a police barracks in the capital's 17th Arrondissement on Monday night, "assuring them of his support" in his first outings on the scene since the protests erupted, a source in his office said.
Authorities reported a sharp decline in incidents nationwide, with just 11 arrests in Paris and its suburbs as of 10:00 pm (2000 GMT), the police department said.
A total of 157 people had been arrested overnight Sunday to Monday -- a small fraction of the number held the night before. Three police officers were also hurt.
Some 3,900 people have been arrested since Friday, including 1,244 minors, the justice ministry said.
"The nights have been tough for residents since Tuesday," when Nahel was killed, said Patrick Jarry, the mayor of Nanterre just west of Paris where the teen of Algerian origin lived.
"The string of violent episodes is unacceptable," he added, calling for calm.
All bus and tram services in the Paris region remain suspended from 9 pm (1900 GMT).
But, in a move which could spark fresh anger, a collection for the family of the policeman who fired the fatal shot -- now charged with voluntary manslaughter -- topped one million euros ($1.1 million).
Politicians from the ruling centrist party condemned the collection -- organised by a far-right figure -- as "indecent" and dangerous.
- 'Threatened with death' -
The home of Jeanbrun, mayor of L'Hay-les-Roses, was rammed with a burning car, and his wife broke her leg as she escaped with her children aged five and seven.
The attack was widely condemned, with prosecutors opening an attempted murder investigation.
"I never would have imagined that my family would be threatened with death," Jeanbrun told French television.
Nadia, the grandmother of Nahel, said Sunday that rioters were using his death as a "pretext" and called for calm.
Although the violence appears to be diminishing, questions remain about the event that sparked it.
Investigators on Monday began interviewing a passenger in the car Nahel was driving without a licence, a security source told AFP.
Some also urged that lessons need to be learned from the unrest -- the worst in France since the death of two youths fleeing police in 2005 sparked three weeks of rioting.
"I can't support people smashing and burning things, who would?" said Fatiha Abdouni, 52, founder of a women's association in Nahel's hometown Nanterre.
Nevertheless, "now we have to listen to the young people, their frustration and anger," she said.
Youths in Paris's deprived suburbs face "daily difficulties, unequal access to study, to work, to housing," Abdouni said -- needing only the "spark" of Nahel's death to trigger the violence.
Tens of millions of euros in emergency support has been released to repair public buildings and small businesses around Paris and in two other regions.
The rioting caused some 20 million euros ($21.8 million) in damage to public transport in the Paris region alone, the regional operator said Monday. This included dozens of burned buses and a torched tramway.
The Medef business association meanwhile estimated damage of "over a billion euros" to companies, with more than 200 businesses looted and 300 bank offices destroyed.
- 'Understand the reasons' -
The protests present a fresh crisis for President Emmanuel Macron, who had been hoping to press on with pledges for his second term after months of demonstrations that erupted in January over raising the retirement age.
He was to meet the mayors of more than 220 towns hit by the unrest on Tuesday, his office said.