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700 People Have Been Arrested In The Fifth Night Of French Riots; Mayor’s Home Attacked

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French Riots

The fifth night of the French Riots has seen 700 individuals arrested.

As France experienced its sixth night of unrest following the police shooting of a teenager, young rioters battled with police until early Sunday morning and targeted a mayor’s residence with a burning vehicle, although overall violence seemed to decrease compared to earlier nights.

The Interior Ministry reported early Sunday that 871 fires were registered on public highways, 577 cars and 74 buildings were set on fire, 719 persons were detained, 45 police and other gendarmes were hurt, and 45 civilians were injured.

The crisis uncovered long-standing unhappiness in low-income communities about prejudice and opportunity gaps and presented President Emmanuel Macron with a fresh leadership challenge.

The 17-year-old whose death Tuesday spawned the anger was laid to rest Saturday in a Muslim ceremony in Nanterre, a Paris suburb where emotions over his loss remain raw. He has been identified publicly only by his first name, Nahel.

A tiny group gathered on the Champs-Elysees as darkness fell over the French capital on Saturday to protest his killing and police brutality, but they were welcomed by hundreds of cops defending the avenue and its shops with batons and shields. Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades as protestors ignited fireworks and set fire to barricades in a less affluent part of northern Paris.

The mansion of the mayor of the Paris neighborhood of l’Hay-les-Roses was struck by a flaming automobile. A number of schools, police stations, town halls, and businesses have recently been the victim of arson or vandalism, but an attack on the residence of the mayor is exceptional.

Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife and one of his children were injured in the attack at 1:30 a.m. while the family was sleeping and he was in the town hall monitoring the violence. His wife suffered a broken tibia, which authorities told BBC News is a “fairly serious injury.” There wasn’t an update immediately available on the children, who are ages five and seven. 

Jeanbrun, of the conservative opposition Republicans party, said in a statement the attack represented a new stage of “horror and ignominy” in the unrest, and urged the government to impose a state of emergency.

Regional prosecutor Stephane Hardouin opened an investigation into attempted murder in the attack, telling French television that a preliminary investigation suggests the car was meant to ram the house and set it ablaze. He said a flame accelerant was found in a bottle in the car.

Skirmishes erupted in the Mediterranean city of Marseille but appeared less intense than the night before, according to the Interior Ministry. A bolstered police contingent arrested 55 people there.

Nationwide arrests were lower than the night before. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin attributed that to “the resolute action of security forces.”

More than 3,000 people have been detained overall since Nahel’s death. The mass police deployment has been welcomed by some frightened residents of targeted neighborhoods and shop owners whose stores have been ransacked — but it has further frustrated those who see police behavior as the core of France’s current crisis.

The unrest took a toll on Macron’s diplomatic standing. On Saturday, he postponed what would have been the first state visit to Germany by a French president in 23 years. Macron had been scheduled to fly to Germany on Sunday.

Hundreds of French police and firefighters have been injured in the violence, although authorities haven’t said how many protesters have been hurt. In French Guiana, an overseas territory, a 54-year-old died after being hit by a stray bullet.

On Saturday, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti warned that young people who share calls for violence on Snapchat or other apps could face prosecution. Macron has blamed social media for fueling violence.

While concerts at the national stadium and smaller events around the country were canceled because of the violence and some neighborhoods suffered serious damage, life in other parts of France went on as usual.

Fans tuned into the start of the Tour de France cycling race in neighboring Spain; Marseille hosted a championship in pétanque — a game involving rolling metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden or plastic one; and families who could afford it headed for summer vacation. In the capital, tourists thronged to the Eiffel Tower, where workers set up a nearby clock counting down to next year’s Paris Olympics.

Hundreds of mourners stood along the road Saturday leading to a hilltop cemetery in Nanterre to pay tribute to Nahel as his white casket was carried from a mosque to the burial site. His mother, dressed in white, walked inside the cemetery amid applause. Many of the men were young and Arab or Black, coming to mourn a boy who could have been them.

This week, Nahel’s mother told France 5 television that she was angry at the officer who shot her son at a traffic stop, but not at the police in general.

“He saw a little Arab-looking kid. He wanted to take his life,” she said. Nahel’s family has roots in Algeria.

Video of the killing showed two officers at the window of the car, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager pulled forward, the officer fired once through the windshield. The officer accused of killing Nahel was given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide.

Thirteen people who didn’t comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police last year, and three this year, prompting demands for more accountability. France also saw protests against police violence and racial injustice after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.

The reaction to the killing was a potent reminder of the persistent poverty, discrimination and limited job prospects in neighborhoods around France where many trace their roots to former French colonies — such as where Nahel grew up.

In 2005, France was shaken by weeks of riots prompted by the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois while fleeing police. Clichy has seen new violence this week.

“Nahel’s story is the lighter that ignited the gas. Hopeless young people were waiting for it. We lack housing and jobs, and when we have (jobs), our wages are too low,” said Samba Seck, a 39-year-old transportation worker in Clichy. 

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