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Macron Meets Mayors Over Rioting


FILE: Protesters clash with police, following the death of Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer during a traffic stop, in Nanterre, Paris suburb, France, on June 29, 2023

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday met with hundreds of French officials to begin exploring the "deeper reasons" for the country's plunge into riots after the killing last week of a teenager at a traffic stop.

The July 4 Elysee palace meeting with more than 300 mayors, whose municipalities suffered damage over a week of violence, came after the authorities Tuesday reported a much calmer night across the country.

"Is it a permanent return to calm? I will be cautious, but the peak that we've seen in previous days has passed," Macron said, according to a participant.

"We all want a lasting, republican order," he said. "That's the absolute priority."

The mayors' call for a "return to republican order" came after the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was rammed with a burning car, prompting widespread outrage.

At the gathering of mayors, Macron was hoping to "start the painstaking, long-term work needed to understand the deeper reasons that led to these events", an official at the president's office said.

But with right- and left-wing officials pointing fingers at one another and each side insistent on their own solutions, the centrist president said at the end of the meeting that they had failed to find "unanimity".

His government would "reach very real solutions" over the summer, he added, saying "we must strike while the iron is hot."

One atendee, however, was not convinced by the conclave.

"I came to hear the president give us a vision, set a course. I didn't come for a group therapy session," complained Zartoshte Bakhtiari, mayor of Neuilly-sur-Marne east of Paris.

The government has battled riots and looting since 17-year-old Nahel M. was killed by an officer during a traffic stop on June 27 just outside Paris, rekindling long-standing accusations of systemic racism among security forces.

Overnight violence in French cities had halved in 24 hours, the interior ministry said, with 72 people arrested overnight nationwide-- bringing the total to almost 3,500.

That included 24 arrested in and around Paris, where the riots first broke out.

The interior ministry said dozens of buildings were damaged - including attacks on four offices of police or gendarmes - but there were no injuries.

More than 150 vehicles had been set ablaze, and hundreds of fires started in rubbish bins or other public areas.

Police mobilisation had been kept at the same level as the two previous nights, at 45,000 across France.

At the meeting with the mayors, Macron raised the idea of handing out quick-fire fines to the parents of children caught for vandalism or robberies.

"With the first crime, we need to find a way of sanctioning the families financially and easily," he said, according to comments reported by the Parisien newspaper.

During the meeting, Macron also promised to fast-track a new law allowing for rapid assistance with rebuilding damaged buildings, public spaces and vandalised transport infrastructure.

French businesses were meanwhile counting the cost of the seven nights of rioting which left countless shops and other outlets vandalised.

"They destroyed everything," said Alexandre Manchon, who works in a tobacconist's in the southern city of Marseille which has seen some of the worst looting.

"None of this is our doing, we are just working people who get up at five in the morning so we can feed our children and families," he told AFP.

Despite the fall in violent incidents "everybody worries that it may be a false calm", said Abdelhamid Faddeoui, who runs private security firm Aetos Securite Privee.

"Most of my clients are maintaining a high level of protection."

Employers' organisations called on the government to create an emergency fund "for those who lost everything."

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday the government may allow damaged businesses to suspend tax and social security payments as they rebuild.

Police meanwhile said it questioned one of the passengers in the car driven by Nahel M., who had turned himself in, to find out more about the exact circumstances of the shooting.

The policeman who fired the lethal shot remained in custody Tuesday, charged with homicide.

An online collection for the family of the 38-year old cop involved, launched by far-right figure Jean Messiha, has gathered more 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million), sparking outrage among the political left.

"It pays to kill a young Arab," tweeted Manon Aubry, a European Parliament deputy for the hard-left LFI party.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also expressed her unease with the initiative, saying it did not "contribute to calming the situation."

By comparison, a fund to support the family of Nahel has run to just under 346,000 euros.