French President Emmanuel Macron was to chair a new crisis meeting of ministers Friday after a third straight night of nationwide protests over thesaw cars torched, shops ransacked and hundreds arrested.
The overnight unrest followed a march on Thursday in memory of the 17-year-old who is only being identified by his first name, Nahel. His death revived longstanding grievances about policing and racial profiling in France’s low-income and multiethnic suburbs.
The Elysee announced Macron would cut short a trip to Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit, to chair a crisis meeting on the violence — the second such emergency talks in as many days.
Around 40,000 police and gendarmes — along with elite Raid and GIGN units — were deployed in several cities overnight, with curfews imposed in municipalities around Paris and bans on public gatherings instated 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 “rare violence.”
The ministry also said 249 police and gendarmes were injured, none seriously.
Police sources said that rather than pitched battles between protesters and police, the night was marked by pillaging of shops, reportedly including flagship branches of Nike and Zara in Paris.
Public buildings were also targeted, with a police station in the Pyrenees city of Pau hit with a Molotov cocktail, according to regional authorities, and an elementary school and a district office set on fire in Lille.
France has been rocked bysince 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 officer’s name wasn’t released, a French practice in criminal cases.
The memorial march for Nahel, led by Mounia, ended with riot police firing tear gas as several cars were set on fire in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, where the teenager lived and was killed.
As part of measures to restore calm, Paris bus and tram services were halted after 9:00 pm local time Thursday, the region’s president said.
But the measures and heightened security appeared to do little to deter unrest Thursday night.
In the city center of Marseille, a library was vandalized, according to local officials, 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.
Multiple public buildings were also targeted in Seine-Saint-Denis, in the Paris metro area, according to a police source.
In the suburb of Drancy, rioters used a truck to force open the entrance to a shopping center that was then partly looted and burned, a police source said.
Firefighters in the northern municipality of Roubaix, meanwhile, dashed from blaze to blaze throughout the night, with a hotel near the train station also catching fire, sending its dozen or so residents fleeing into the streets.
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, according to an AFP journalist.
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..
Nahel was killed as he pulled away from police who were trying to stop him for a traffic infraction.
A video, authenticated by AFP, showed two police officers standing by the side of the stationary car, with one pointing a weapon at the driver.
A voice is heard saying: “You are going to get a bullet in the head.”
The police officer then appears to fire as the car abruptly drives off.
Clashes first erupted as the video emerged, contradicting police accounts that the teenager was driving at the officer.
The officer’s lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, told BFMTV late Thursday that his client had apologized as he was taken into custody.
“The first words he pronounced were to say sorry, and the last words he said were to say sorry to the family,” Lienard said.
The attorney said his client was was sorry and “devastated” but did what he thought was necessary in the moment, according to The Associated Press. “He doesn’t get up in the morning to kill people. … He really didn’t want to kill.”
Earlier on Thursday, Nanterre public prosecutor Pascal Prache had said, “The prosecution considers that the legal conditions for the use of the weapon” by the police officer who fired the shot “are not met.”