France President, Emmanuel Macron has rushed back to France from Brussels on Friday for a crisis meeting, after a third night of protests over a policeman’s killing of a 17-year old driver.
Macron left the European Council summit in Brussels to chair a crisis meeting on the violence, the second such emergency talks since Tuesday as protesters torched cars, and ransacked public buildings.
Police sources said the night was mared by pillaging of shops, reportedly including flagship branches of Nike and Zara in Paris rather than pitched battles between protesters and police.
Public buildings were also targeted, with a police station in the Pyrenees city of Pau hit with a Molotov cocktail, an elementary school and a district office set on fire in northern town Lille, regional authorities said.
Credible News reports that the unrest came 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.
Ahead of the meeting, French Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne said the government was considering “all options” to restore order, including declaring a state of emergency.
Around 40,000 police and gendarmes, along with elite Raid and GIGN units, were deployed in several cities overnight, with curfews issued in municipalities around Paris and bans on public gatherings in Lille and Tourcoing in the country’s north.
Despite the massive security deployment, violence and damage were reported in multiple areas.
Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin said 667 people had been arrested in what he described as a night of violence, while 249 police officers were injured, none of them seriously.
Rioting apparently linked to the Paris police shooting had even followed Macron to the Belgian capital, with Brussels police reporting 63 people detained late Thursday for setting fires and erecting barricades.
Credible News reports that France has been rocked by successive nights of protests since Nahel was shot point-blank on Tuesday during a traffic stop captured on video.
In her first media interview since the shooting, Nahel’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.
Heightened security appeared to do little to deter unrest Thursday night.
In the city centre of Marseille, a library was vandalised 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, local officials said.
In Nanterre, the epicentre of the unrest, tensions rose around midnight, with fireworks and explosives set off in the Pablo Picasso district, where Nahel had lived.
The Paris region’s bus and tram lines remained “severely disrupted” on Friday after a dozen vehicles were torched overnight in a depot and some routes were blocked or damaged, the RATP transport authority said.
The government is desperate to avoid a repeat of 2005 urban riots, sparked by the death of two boys of African origin in a police chase, during which 6,000 people were arrested.
Macron has called for calm and said the protest violence was “unjustifiable”.
The riots are a fresh challenge for the President, who had been looking to move past some of the biggest demonstrations in a generation sparked by a controversial rise in the retirement age.