France, which has been facing massive violent protests for the past four days, further plunged into severe law and order crisis on Friday as a majority of young demonstrators thronged to streets and burned shops and police vehicles in the aftermath of a teenager killing in a police shootout. President Emmanuel Macron, who had to curtail his EU meeting due to evolving situation, repeatedly appealed to parents to advise their children to refrain from taking part in protests and urged the protestors to stop violent attacks on police and business establishments.
Police said 270 people had been arrested by midnight nationwide. Despite repeated government appeals for calm and stiffer policing, Friday saw brazen daylight violence, too. An Apple store was looted in the eastern city of Strasbourg, where police fired tear gas, and the windows of a fast-food outlet were smashed in a Paris-area shopping mall, where officers repelled people trying to break into a shuttered store, authorities said.
Macron urges social media users to not share violent contents
Macron zeroed in on social media platforms that have relayed dramatic images of vandalism and cars and buildings being torched, saying they are playing a “considerable role” in the violence. Singling out Snapchat and TikTok, he said they were being used to organize unrest and serving as conduits for copycat violence.
Macron said his government would work with technology companies to establish procedures for “the removal of the most sensitive content,” adding that he expected “a spirit of responsibility” from them.
Snapchat spokesperson Rachel Racusen said the company has increased its moderation since Tuesday to detect and act on content related to the rioting.
Macron said a third of the individuals arrested Thursday night were “young people, sometimes very young,” and that “it’s the parents’ responsibility” to keep their children at home.
Protestors are looting shops, bikes, mobiles
The southern port city of Marseille, initially spared the violence that broke out first in the Paris region, was experiencing its second night of upheaval. Even before nightfall, young people hurled projectiles, set fires, and looted shops, police said. They made almost 90 arrests. On Friday evening, looters broke into a Marseille gun shop and made off with weapons, and a man was later arrested with a hunting rifle, police said. The previous night, two off-duty officers suffered serious injuries, including one who was stabbed, when they were set upon by about 20 people, police said.
Authorities in the city of Lyon reported rioters again setting fires and pelting police in the suburbs. In the city center, police made 31 arrests to stop the attempted looting of shops after an unauthorized protest against police violence that drew about 1,300 people Friday evening.
Over 45,000 police personnel deployed
Already massively beefed-up police forces were boosted by another 5,000 officers for Friday night, increasing the number to 45,000 overall, the interior minister said. Some were called back from vacation. The minister, Gerald Darmanin, said police made 917 arrests on Thursday alone and noted their young age — 17 on average. He said more than 300 police officers and firefighters have been injured.
Darmanin also ordered a nationwide nighttime shutdown of all public buses and trams, which have been among rioters’ targets. And he said he had delivered a warning to social networks that they can’t allow themselves to be used as channels for calls to violence. “They were very cooperative. We’ll see tonight if they really are. We are going to give them as much information as possible” so that, in return, French authorities get the identities of people who incite violence, the minister explained.
“We will pursue every person who uses these social networks to commit violent acts,” he said. “And we will take all necessary measures if we become aware that social networks, whoever they are, don’t respect the law.”
Why France is burning?
The fatal shooting of the 17-year-old, who has only been identified by his first name, Nahel, was captured on video, shocking France and stirring up long-simmering tensions between police and young people in housing projects and disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said officers tried to pull Nahel over because he looked so young and was driving a Mercedes with Polish license plates in a bus lane. He allegedly ran a red light to avoid being stopped and then got stuck in traffic.
The police officer accused of pulling the trigger was handed a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide after Prache said his initial investigation led him to conclude that the officer’s use of his weapon wasn’t legally justified. Preliminary charges mean investigating magistrates strongly suspect wrongdoing but need to investigate more before sending a case to trial.
The officer said he feared he and his colleague or someone else could be hit by the car as Nahel attempted to flee, according to the prosecutor. Nahel’s mother, identified as Mounia M., told France 5 television that she was angry at the officer but not at the police in general. “He saw a little Arab-looking kid, he wanted to take his life,” she said, adding that justice should be “very firm.” “A police officer cannot take his gun and fire at our children, take our children’s lives,” she said.
(With inputs from AP)
Also Read: France: 600 people arrested, 200 officers hurt amid protests over fatal police shooting of teen driver
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