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Nearly 1,000 rioters were arrested last night for taking part in the most violent protests France has experienced in recent years, according to estimates by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.
The killing of a 17-year-old of Algerian and Moroccan ancestry by a police officer on Tuesday sparked violent demonstrations in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where the teenager was killed. The violence then spread throughout the country and its main cities.
The shooting of the teenager, identified as Nahel M., has reignited long-simmering tensions between the youth of the outskirts – typically disadvantaged and multi-ethnic neighborhoods – and the police, accused of brutality and racial discrimination.
Nahel’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday at 2pm in Nanterre, with authorities strained for more demonstrations.
To deal with the unrest, France deployed 45,000 police and gendarmes to all major cities on Friday night, of which 5,000 were tasked with patrolling Paris. The authorities also imposed a curfew in the capital, banned public gatherings in some municipalities and stopped all bus and tram services after 9.00pm
Despite massive security efforts, the unrest does not seem to subside, with public buildings, hotels, shops and cars continuing to be targeted and set on fire. The interior ministry said on Saturday that 1,350 vehicles and 234 buildings were set on fire overnight, as well as 2,560 fires set in public spaces, AFP reported.
Darmanin said 200 policemen had been injured since the riots began.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the teenager’s killing was « inexplicable » and « unforgivable », though he also promptly blamed social media for spreading violent content and fueling the violence after the tragic event.
“We have seen violent rallies organized on several [social media platforms] – but also a sort of mimicry of violence,” Macron said on Friday, accusing the younger rioters of “living video games that have intoxicated them.”
Events, including two concerts at the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris, have been cancelled. Tour de France organizers said they were ready to adapt to any situation when the race enters the country on Monday after starting in the Spanish city of Bilbao, Reuters reported.
Religious leaders, including Chems-Eddine Hafiz, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, have called for an end to the violence.
France fears a repeat of the civil unrest of 2005, when three weeks of rioting rocked the country after two teenagers of African descent were electrocuted at an electrical substation while trying to evade police.