Violence and looting hit France in a fourth night of protests as massively deployed police made nearly 1,000 arrests and the country braced for more riots ahead of the funeral Saturday of the teenager who was killed by an officer during a traffic stop.
The government said the violence had “lessened” compared to previous nights, but the interior ministry still reported 994 arrests nationwide overnight, and 79 injuries among police and gendarmes. This is more than on any night since the protests began Tuesday, sparked by the death of 17-year-old Nahel by a police bullet. Provisional ministry numbers released early Saturday also included 1,350 vehicles and 234 buildings torched, and 2,560 incidents of fire set in public spaces.
The clashes continued despite France deploying 45,000 officers, the highest number of any night since the start of the protests, backed by light armoured vehicles and elite police units. They were unable to stop looting in the cities of Marseille, Lyon and Grenoble, with bands of often-hooded rioters pillaging shops.
Despite rain pouring down on Paris and its suburbs since the small hours of Saturday, rioting also flared up there, with close to half the nationwide arrests, 406, made in and around the capital, a police source told AFP. But during a visit to Mantes-la-Jolie west of Paris on Saturday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin maintained that the night’s violence had been of “much less intensity”.
Darmanin had announced an “exceptional” deployment of police and gendarmes to deal with the riots over the death of Nahel, who will be buried on Saturday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre where he lived and died.
Dozens of police vans were positioned not far from the entrance to the Vieux Pont district of Nanterre, which was the epicentre of the unrest, and nine people had been arrested for carrying Molotov cocktails and petrol canisters.
The French national football team joined calls for an end to the clashes. “The time of violence must give way to that of mourning, dialogue and reconstruction,” the team said in a statement posted on social media by captain and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe. Les Bleus said they were “shocked by the brutal death of young Nahel” but asked that violence give way to “other peaceful and constructive ways of expressing oneself.”
The southern port city of Marseille was again the scene of clashes and looting from the centre and further north in the long-neglected low-income neighbourhoods that President Emmanuel Macron visited at the start of the week. Marseille police said the rioters and looters were “very mobile” young people who often wore masks.
A major fire “linked to the riots” broke out in a supermarket, according to a police source. Marseille mayor Benoit Payan called for law enforcement backup from the central government to cope. Looting and clashes between hooded protesters and police also occurred in parts of Grenoble, Saint-Etienne, and Lyon.
Buses and trams in France have stopped running after 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) after several were destroyed in recent days, and the sale of large fireworks and inflammable liquids has been banned. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also announced the cancellation of large-scale events across the country, which included two concerts this weekend by hugely popular singer Mylene Farmer at the Stade de France venue.
The killing of Nahel has revived longstanding grievances about policing and racial profiling in France’s low-income and multi-ethnic suburbs. The teen’s mother, Mounia, said Thursday that the 38-year-old officer who was detained and charged with voluntary manslaughter, “saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life”.
But Macron, who initially denounced an “unforgivable” death, also criticised an “unacceptable exploitation of a death of an adolescent” in some quarters and vowed to work with social networks to curb “copycat violence”.
He also urged parents to take responsibility for underage rioters, one-third of whom were “young or very young”. The UN rights office said Friday that the killing of the teen of North African descent was “a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement”.
The unrest has raised concerns abroad, with France hosting the Rugby World Cup in the autumn and then the Paris Olympic Games in the summer of 2024. Britain and other European countries updated their travel advice to warn tourists to stay away from areas affected by the rioting.
“Our hotel members have suffered a wave of cancellations of reservations in all the territories affected by the damage and clashes,” said chef Thierry Marx, president of the main association for hotel and catering industry employers.