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Grandmother of killed French teen urges calm as mayor's home attacked

By Tiphaine LE LIBOUX and Stuart WILLIAMS / AFP Published Jul 03, 2023 9:28 am

The grandmother of the French teenager whose killing by police sparked riots called for calm as the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was attacked with a burning car in a new eruption of violence. 

The government of President Emmanuel Macron has been battling five nights of violent protests since 17-year-old Nahel M. was shot dead in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on June 27 by an officer during a traffic check.

The killing of Nahel M, who was of Algerian origin, has revived longstanding accusations of institutional racism within the French police, which rights groups say single out minorities during stops. 

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

The ministry said 719 people were arrested overnight, around half the figure of the previous night. Intense clashes were nevertheless reported in several places, including the southern city of Marseille.

"Stop and do not riot," Nahel's grandmother, Nadia, told BFM television in a telephone interview, saying that the rioters were only using his death as a "pretext."

"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," she said. 

Adding 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."

Police officers walk as they try to disperse protesters with tear gas during a demonstration against police in Marseille, southern France.

'Horror and disgrace'

Politicians condemned the attack on the home 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. The wife was "badly injured" sustaining a broken leg, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have opened an attempted murder investigation. "Last night, the horror and disgrace reached a new level," the mayor said in a statement.

"The situation was much calmer" overall, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told reporters as she visited L'Hay-les-Roses. 

"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."

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.

In Marseille, which has seen intense clashes and looting, police dispersed groups of youths Saturday evening at Canebiere, the main avenue running through the center of the city, AFP journalists said.

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

A pedestrian walks past graffiti that reads as "Justice for Nahel" on a wall at Place de la Concorde in Paris.

'New crisis meeting'

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 protests that erupted in January over raising the retirement age.

The 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, in an indication of the gravity of the situation in France.

"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 ministers in the government, 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, the mayors of more than 220 towns hit by the unrest.

In a bid to limit the violence, buses and trams in France have stopped running and the sale of large fireworks was banned. Marseille has stopped all urban transport.

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

Macron has urged parents to take responsibility for underage rioters, one-third of whom were "young or very young" and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has said the average age of those arrested was just 17.

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 the grandmother. (AFP)