France's mayors call on public to gather in anti-riot display

AFP , Monday 3 Jul 2023

France's mayors have called on members of the public and elected officials to gather at town halls across the country on Monday in a show of mass opposition to violent protests that have dragged on for nearly a week.

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Emergency personnel survey the scene of a burnt out building - which housed a pharmacy - in Montargis, some 100kms south of Paris on July 1, 2023, which was set alight overnight during continuing protests following the shooting of a teenage driver in the suburb of Nanterre on June 27. AFP

 

The government has been battling nightly riots and looting ever since 17-year-old Nahel M. was shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday, reviving longstanding accusations of racism within the French police force.

The extraordinary call for a "mobilisation of citizens for a return to republican order" came after the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was rammed with a flaming car in an apparent bid to burn it down, prompting widespread outrage.

In a press release, an association of the country's mayors noted that "communes everywhere in France are the scene of serious unrest, which targets republican symbols with extreme violence".

Seeking to quell what has become one of the biggest challenges to President Emmanuel Macron since he took office in 2017, the interior ministry said it was again deploying 45,000 police and gendarmes nationwide overnight Sunday to Monday, the same figure as the previous two nights.

As of 1:30 am Monday, 78 people had been arrested in relation to the unrest nationwide, according to the interior ministry -- a fraction of the number arrested the night before.

 'Do not riot' 

Earlier, on Sunday, the grandmother of Nahel had called for calm, saying that rioters were only using his death as a "pretext".

"Stop and do not riot," Nahel's grandmother, Nadia, told BFM television in a telephone interview.

"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."

Adding that she was "tired", Nadia said: "Nahel, he is dead. My daughter had only one child, and now she is lost, it's over, my daughter no longer has a life. And as for me, they made me lose my daughter and my grandson."

Politicians, meanwhile, condemned the attack on the residence 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 five and seven, were at home, while the mayor himself was at the town hall to deal with the riots. His wife was "badly injured", sustaining a broken leg, according to prosecutors, who have since opened an attempted murder investigation.

"Last night the horror and disgrace reached a new level," the mayor said in a statement.

During a visit to L'Hay-les-Roses, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told reporters that, overall, the "situation was much calmer" than in previous days.

"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".

Fresh crisis 

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.

Paris police chief Laurent Nunez cautioned on BFM television that despite the calmer evening "no one is declaring victory".

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 demonstrations that erupted in January over raising the retirement age.

The latest 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.

Macron postponed a state visit to Germany that had been scheduled to begin on Sunday in an indication of the gravity of the situation at home.

"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 headed a crisis meeting Sunday with government ministers, according to the Elysee.

After the meeting, a statement from his office said he would be meeting the heads of the two chambers of parliament on Monday, and the mayors of more than 220 towns hit by the unrest on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Tour de France organisers said they were paying close attention to the situation as the cycling race prepares to cross the border into France Monday after two days in the Spanish Basque country.

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

"This man must pay, like everyone else. Those who are rioting, who attack the police must also be punished. I believe in justice," said Nahel's grandmother.

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