France riots: Macron holds emergency meeting as killed teenager's grandmother urges calm

Violence across the country abated slightly on Sunday but major cities are still in a state of emergency

French soldiers, part of the national security plan 'Vigipirate', keep watch as they secure the area near the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, France, early 03 July 2023.  Violence broke out all over France after police fatally shot a 17-year-old teenager during a traffic stop in Nanterre on 27 June.  The French Interior Ministry released a provisional bulletin for 02 July reporting, on the fifth night of rioting, 719 people arrested nationwide and 45 police officers or gendarmes injured.   EPA / OLIVIER MATTHYS
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French President Emmanuel Macron is counting on law enforcement to restore order after almost a week of nationwide riots sparked by a police officer’s fatal shooting of a teenager.

On Sunday evening, the grandmother of Nahel M, who was shot during a traffic stop, called for calm after a burning car was rammed into the home of the mayor of L’Hay-les-Roses, a Paris suburb. His wife and two children narrowly escaped the widely condemned attack.

Tensions eased overnight, with just 157 arrests as of 1.30am on Monday, according to BFM TV. And no major incidents were recorded, it said.

Mr Macron, who postponed a state visit to Germany to meet with Chancellor Olaf Scholz, held another emergency cabinet meeting through Sunday night in his latest attempt to craft a response to the violence, which is testing his authority and ability to carry out reforms.

He plans to meet with the heads of both houses of parliament on Monday and with the mayors of 220 towns and cities affected by the protests on Tuesday, said a participant in the meeting, who spoke anonymously.

Mr Macron also wants to start a detailed, longer-term assessment of the reasons that led to the unrest, the official said.

In addition to the deployment of police special forces – the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group – 45,000 more police have been deployed to riot-hit cities including Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Strasbourg. Nightly curfews have been put in place, and arrests were down to 700 nationwide on Sunday, down from a peak of nearly 1,500 through Friday and Saturday. For context, the national police force has around 150,000 staff.

The shooting of Nahel, a 17-year-old of North African descent, remains a flashpoint in a crisis over racism and inequality in France that has drawn comparisons with the reaction in the US to the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

The riots represent a second major crisis for Mr Macron this year after widespread, union-backed protests and public sector strikes, mainly over the raising of the retirement age. Both issues have seen him take political flack from the far left and far right, the latter having surged to electoral success in parliament last year through Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party.

“What Macron needs to do is develop substantive policies to address the problems faced by these youths,” Vivien A. Schmidt, a professor of European integration at Boston University, said by email. “Unfortunately, however, it is not clear that he even recognises the problem.”

Nahel's grandmother appealed for calm on Sunday, telling BFM TV that rioters were using his death on June 27 as a “pretext.”

"Stop and do not riot", she said.

"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."

Meanwhile, French government spokesman Olivier Veran said “there is no political message” in ransacking a store during the night.

“I don’t call these scenes of looting a movement,” he told France Inter radio.

The rioting, mostly carried out by young people from working-class neighborhoods, is once again laying bare the societal chasms. Some of the most violent clashes happened in the port city of Marseille, which Macron visited last week to pledge help for community projects.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Saturday tallied up damage to about a dozen shopping malls and more than 700 supermarkets, banks and stores, some of which have been reduced to rubble. Nearing the height of the summer tourist season, countries including the UK have put in place travel warnings for France.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin visited the L'Hay-les-Roses on Sunday after the incident at the mayor's home. “We’ll continue to bring order as quickly as possible,” Ms Borne said. “No mayor will be left alone.”

Labour unrest and street demonstrations happen regularly in France, but have taken on a more intense and confrontational tone in recent years, reflecting divisions within French society. Before the pension protests and the pandemic, the so-called Yellow Vest movement had already caused widespread property damage.

The current spate of unrest has prompted Mr Macron to postpone a rare state visit by a French president to Germany, where Chancellor Olaf Scholz called images of the clashes “very dispiriting” on Sunday.

Nahel, whose last name has been withheld by authorities, was buried on Saturday in Nanterre, his hometown, where he was shot at close range in a car. The officer who fired the gun has been charged with murder and is in pre-trial detention. Laurent-Franck Lienard, a lawyer for the officer, told Europe 1 radio that the policeman believed he needed to shoot.

Updated: July 03, 2023, 6:45 AM