French riots plunge Emmanuel Macron into fresh crisis

France is facing a spiralling crisis after nights of unrest sparked by the police killing of a teenager of North African origin, in a fresh hurdle for President Emmanuel Macron as he was seeking to move on from months of protests over pension reforms.

Mass union-backed demonstrations since the start of this year against Macron’s attempt to raise the retirement age had overshadowed much of his second term. The death of 17-year-old Nahel has now opened up a new fracture and exposed the president’s administration to attacks from the political extremes.

The teenager’s killing sparked three nights of rioting in cities and suburbs across France that escalated to looting. The teenager was shot by police following a chase as he restarted the car he was driving to try to escape.

Video description

Footage of traffic stop during which the shooting took place, flower tributes to Nahel and protests across France


The fatal shooting by French police of 17-year-old Nahel led to protests across the country © FT/Reuters

Footage of traffic stop during which the shooting took place, flower tributes to Nahel and protests across France

Opposition parties from across the political spectrum have harshly criticised Macron’s administration over the teenager’s killing and the handling of the aftermath, as scores of police stations, schools and city halls were targeted by fires and buses and cars were set ablaze.

Far-right leader Marine le Pen — whose party has been gaining in opinion polls — has seized on the opportunity to portray Macron as weak on law and order.

“These terrible scenes will bring our leaders back to reality,” Le Pen said in a video address on Friday, saying France had slipped into in a state of “endemic disorder” in recent days.

Macron, who cut short an EU summit in Brussels on Friday to return to Paris, pledged additional police means to try to restore order after rolling out 40,000 officers and some of the country’s elite squads the previous night.

After chairing his second crisis meeting with ministers in as many days, Macron said he “strongly condemn[ed] all of those who are using this situation and this moment to try and create disorder and attack our institutions”.

He called the disorder an “unacceptable instrumentalisation of the death of an adolescent, which we all deplore, when this period should be for reflection and respect”.

The killing of Nahel has revived memories of the three weeks of serious riots in 2005, sparked by the death of two teenagers from a low-income suburb as they tried to flee police. More than a week in, then-president Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency. Some opposition leaders on the right are now clamouring for a similar move.

A Elysée official said such a state of emergency, which gives local prefects broader powers, would be a “charged symbolic move” and was not needed at this stage. Instead, the government’s plan was to gradually increase police presence and deploy heavy armoured vehicles, helicopters and drones as needed.

Macron is fresh from several weeks of efforts to try and cast his government in a more positive light, which now risk being derailed. He travelled widely in France to visit factories, promising money for schools in Marseille, and wooing Elon Musk for a battery plant. He is set to travel to Germany for a state visit that begins Monday.

Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst from Eurasia Group, said Macron’s “goal was to focus on a busy reform agenda and get legislation moving again — on immigration reform and the green transition — but that focus will become much harder if the unrest continues”.

Macron had also faced widespread unrest in his first term when anti-government “gilets jaunes” protests triggered by a proposed fuel tax dragged on for months.

Nahel’s shooting is tapping into anger over perceived police brutality and racial discrimination. It is also reviving indignation over marked inequality in concerns from housing to jobs in some low-income areas that are home to many immigrants and their descendants.

“There’s a feeling of injustice in the minds of many residents . . . whether it’s related to succeeding in school, or access to jobs, culture and quality housing,” said Patrick Jarry, the mayor of Nanterre, where Nahel was killed.

Close to 900 people were arrested nationwide on Thursday night, with roughly half in the Paris region. Many of those were very young, Macron said, as he called on parents to take responsibility.

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron, president of France, called the riots an ‘unacceptable instrumentalisation of the death of an adolescent, which we all deplore, when this period should be for reflection and respect’ © Yves Herman/Pool/Reuters

Concerts, school leaving parties and other events in areas hit by disturbances were cancelled as a precaution. The government was contacting TikTok, Snapchat and other social media groups to get them to remove content inciting riots, Macron said. The interior ministry was seeking to limit bus and tram services at nightfall to prevent attacks.

The protests have quickly spread, from Marseille to Lyon and the outskirts of Lille. If they continue, they will coincide with the start of the Tour de France cycling race on Saturday, which sets off from across the Spanish border in Bilbao, as well as the start of summer holidays, with people set to criss-cross the country by road.

Rightwing parties have seized on the moment to attack Macron’s record on crime and order, while the left has slammed him for neglecting low-income neighbourhoods and enabling heavy-handed police tactics.

Far-right leader Le Pen said there could be no possible excuse for what she described as “anarchy” as she called on the state to bring in localised curfews. She took aim at the government’s immigration policies and what she called their “judicial laxity”.

Cars on fire in Nanterre, Paris
Cars were set alight in Nanterre, Paris, on Thursday night as violent protests gripped France © Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

In contrast, far-left lawmaker Éric Coquerel, of the Nupes alliance, called for more help for the low-income areas at the centre of the rioting. “We need political and social responses, starting with looking at how police have been used against the young of the suburbs for decades,” he said on Twitter.

But analysts say it will be Le Pen who stands to benefit if the unrest continues. Her popularity ratings have improved since her Rassemblement National party elected an unprecedented 88 lawmakers to parliament last year. She is the second-most popular political figure after Macron’s former prime minister Edouard Philippe, according to an Ipsos poll from May.

The police officer who fired the fatal shot has been placed in pre-trial detention, a rare step, and investigating magistrates have filed preliminary charges of voluntary homicide.

The outcry over the shooting grew quickly after a video emerged of the incident, which showed no apparent immediate threat to the two officers who flagged down the teenager.

The two officers pursued Nahel on motorbikes after noticing a young driver speeding down a bus lane and running lights, according to the prosecutor for Nanterre. The officers caught up with him in traffic and one shot him as he tried to pull away.

No weapons or drugs were found in the car, the prosecutor added. He said Nahel, who was driving without a licence, had a history of refusing to stop for police. But lawyers for Nahel’s family said the teenager had never been sentenced for any crime.

Nahel’s mother, Mounia, who appeared at a demonstration in Nanterre on Thursday holding a flare and wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “Justice for Nahel”, told France 5 she wanted “very firm” justice for her son.

“I’m not angry at the police, I’m angry with one person, the one who took my son’s life away,” she said in the TV interview on Thursday night. “It’s the fault of one man, not a whole system. [Nahel] looked like a young Arab and he took his life away.”

A lawyer for the policeman who fired the shot said the officer was devastated and had not intended to kill the teenager. But he claimed that the officer had acted within the law and had feared the car would crush the policemen and endanger others.

“When you have killed someone, evidently you regret it . . . but my client says he could not have done any differently,” Laurent-Franck Lienard told BFM TV.

Source link

Leave a Comment