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France Boils With Anti-Police Rage


Police clear a street on the third night of protests sparked by the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old driver in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, France, June 30, 2023.

PARIS — The unrest in France has come in response to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old "Nahel M," whose death has revived longstanding grievances about policing and racial profiling in France's low-income and multi-ethnic suburbs.

France's president rushed home from an E.U. summit in Brussels Friday for a crisis meeting, after the third night of protests over a policeman's killing of a teen, "Nahel M," saw cars torched, shops ransacked and hundreds arrested.

Nahel was killed as he pulled away from police who were trying to stop him for a traffic infraction.

A video, authenticated by AFP, showed two police officers standing by the side of the stationary car, with one pointing a weapon at the driver.

A voice is heard saying: "You are going to get a bullet in the head."

The police officer then appears to fire as the car abruptly drives off.

Police sources said that rather than pitched battles between protesters and police, the night was marked by pillaging of shops, reportedly including flagship branches of Nike and Zara in Paris.

The Paris region's bus and tram lines remained "severely disrupted" on Friday, the RATP transport authority said, after a dozen vehicles were torched overnight in a depot and some routes were blocked or damaged.

Public buildings in France were also targeted, with a police station in the Pyrenees city of Pau hit with a Molotov cocktail, according to regional authorities, and an elementary school and a district office set on fire in northern town Lille.

In the city center of Marseille, a library was vandalized, according to local officials, and scuffles broke out nearby when police used tear gas to disperse a group of 100 to 150 people who allegedly tried to set up barricades.

French police arrested 875 people during overnight rioting, around half of them in the Paris region, the interior ministry said Friday, updating a previous figure.

A total of 492 buildings were damaged, 2,000 vehicles were burned and 3,880 fires were started, according to figures given by President Emmanuel Macron at the start of a crisis meeting on Friday.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Friday that the government was considering "all options" to restore order, including declaring a state of emergency, after a third night of unrest across the country.

Asked by reporters if a state of emergency was being considered, as some right-wing opposition parties have demanded, she replied: "I won't tell you now, but we are looking at all options, with one priority: restoring order throughout the country."

"We are calling for a curfew initially, then the imposition of a full state of emergency and the mobilisation of all the forces of law and order in the country," spokesman for the far-right National Rally Sebastien Chenu told LCI television Friday.

"Right now we're at the bottom of a cliff and we need to be extremely tough," he said.

In her first media interview since the shooting, victim "Nahel M's" mother, Mounia, told the France 5 channel: "I don't blame the police, I blame one person: the one who took the life of my son."

She said the 38-year-old officer responsible, who was detained and charged with voluntary manslaughter on Thursday, "saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life".

The memorial march for Nahel, led by Mounia, ended with riot police firing tear gas as several cars were set alight in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, where the teenager lived and was killed.

The lawyer for the police officer charged in the teen's killing, Laurent-Franck Lienard, told BFMTV late Thursday that his client had apologised as he was taken into custody.

"The first words he pronounced were to say sorry, and the last words he said were to say sorry to the family," Lienard said.

There have long been concerns over allegations of systemic racism in the French police and U.N. spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said Friday "We are concerned by the killing of a 17-year-old of North African descent by police in France... this is a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement."

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is a body of independent experts that monitors how states are implementing the convention on eliminating all forms of such discrimination.

In December, the CERD voiced its deep concerns about the frequent use in France of identity checks and alleged discriminatory stops, which the committee said disproportionately targeted members of certain minority groups.

But the French foreign ministry said that "few countries" could match the "internal, external and legal" controls exercised over the French police.

The commitment of France and its police force to fighting racism and discrimination "cannot be in any doubt", it added.