Grandmother of French teen killed by police urges calm as mayor's home attacked

AFP , Sunday 2 Jul 2023

The grandmother of the French teenager whose fatal shooting by police has sparked several nights of unrest issued a plea for calm Sunday as the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was attacked with a burning car in a new flaring of violence.

Nahel France murder
A graffiti reads Justice for Nahel on a wall Sunday, July 2, 2023 in Paris suburb Nanterre. AFP


The government of President Emmanuel Macron has been battling five nights of violent protests since 17-year-old Nahel M. was shot dead in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday by an officer during a traffic check.

The killing of Nahel M, who was of Algerian origin, has revived longstanding accusations of institutional racism within the French police, which rights groups say single out minorities during controls.

Seeking to quell what has become one of the biggest challenges to Macron since he took office in 2017, the interior ministry has for the last two nights deployed 45,000 police and gendarmes nationwide, as well as helicopters and armoured vehicles.

The interior ministry said 719 people were arrested overnight, around half the figure from the previous night but with intense clashes still reported in several places, including the southern city of Marseille, but calmer elsewhere.

"Stop and do not riot," Nahel's grandmother, Nadia, told BFM television in a telephone interview, saying that the rioters were only using his death as a "pretext".

"I tell the people who are rioting this: Do not smash windows, attack schools or buses. Stop! It's the mums who are taking the bus, it's the mums who walk outside," she said.

'Horror and disgrace'

Politicians condemned the attack on the home of Vincent Jeanbrun, the right-wing mayor of L'Hay-les-Roses outside Paris, in which assailants rammed a burning car into his home with the aim of setting it on fire, prosecutors said.

Jeanbrun's wife and children, aged 5 and 7, were at home while the mayor himself was at the town hall to deal with the riots. The wife was "badly injured" sustaining a broken leg, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have opened an attempted murder investigation. "Last night the horror and disgrace reached a new level," the mayor said in a statement.

"The situation was much calmer" overall, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told reporters as she visited L'Hay-les-Roses.

"But an act of the kind we saw this morning here is particularly shocking. We will let no violence get by" unpunished, she said, urging that the perpetrators be sanctioned with the "utmost severity".

Some 7,000 police were deployed in Paris and its suburbs alone, including along the Champs Elysees avenue in the capital, a tourist hotspot, following calls on social media to take the rioting to the heart of the city.

The massive police presence helped keep the violence in check, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

"A calmer night thanks to the resolute action of the security forces," he tweeted early Sunday.

But Paris police chief Laurent Nunez cautioned on BFM television that "No one is declaring victory".

In Marseille, which has seen intense clashes and looting, police dispersed groups of youths Saturday evening at Canebiere, the main avenue running through the centre of the city, AFP journalists said.

'New crisis meeting'

The protests present a fresh crisis for Macron, who had been hoping to press on with the pledges of his second term after seeing off months of protests that erupted in January over raising the retirement age.

He postponed a state visit to Germany scheduled to begin Sunday, in a sign of the gravity of the situation in France.

"We are of course looking at (the riots) with concern, and I very much hope, and I am certainly convinced, that the French president will find ways to ensure that this situation improves quickly," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told broadcaster ARD.

Macron will head a crisis meeting Sunday with members of his government, according to the Elysee.

In a bid to limit the violence, buses and trams in France have stopped running after 9:00 pm and the sale of large fireworks and inflammable liquids has been banned. Marseille has stopped all urban transport from 6:00 pm.

Macron has urged parents to take responsibility for underage rioters, one-third of whom were "young or very young".

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said Saturday that 30 percent of those arrested were minors, while Darmanin said the average age of those arrested was just 17.

The unrest has raised concerns abroad, with France hosting the Rugby World Cup in the autumn and the Paris Olympic Games in the summer of 2024.

Culture and entertainment have been disrupted, with singer Mylene Farmer calling off stadium concerts and French fashion house Celine cancelling its Paris menswear show.

A 38-year-old policeman has been charged with voluntary homicide over Nahel's death and has been remanded in custody.

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