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France Faces Worst Riots Since Yellow Vest Protests As 45000 Police, Armoured Vehicles Are Deployed

France is facing its worst wave of riots since the Yellow Vest protest of 2018, as thousands of people have taken the streets across the country to protest against the fatal shooting of a teenager by a police officer during a traffic stop.

The unrest, which started on Tuesday in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre where 17-year-old Nahel M. was killed, has spread to other cities such as Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, and Lille. Buildings and vehicles have been torched, stores looted and police officers attacked by angry mobs.

The government has deployed 45,000 police officers and some armoured vehicles to restore order and prevent further violence. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that more than 1,300 people had been arrested since the riots began and that more than 200 police officers had been injured.

The shooting of Nahel M., a French citizen of Algerian and Moroccan descent, has reignited longstanding complaints by poor and racially mixed urban communities of police brutality and racism. President Emmanuel Macron has denied that there is systemic racism in the French law enforcement agencies but has promised a thorough investigation into the incident.

Looters have ransacked dozens of shops and torched 2,000 vehicles since the start of the riots.

Friday night's arrest included 80 people in Marseille, home to many people of North African descent.

Social media images showed an explosion rocking the old port area of the southern city, but no casualties were reported.

Rioters in France's second-largest city had looted a gun store and stole hunting rifles, but no ammunition, police said.

Mayor Benoit Payan called on the government to send extra troops to tackle "pillaging and violence" in Marseille, where three police officers were slightly wounded on Saturday.

In Lyon, France's third-largest city, police deployed armoured personnel carriers and a helicopter, while in Paris, they cleared protesters from the Place de la Concorde. Lyon Mayor Gregory Doucet has also called for reinforcements.

Darmanin had asked authorities to halt buses and trams, while Macron urged parents to keep children at home.

The unrest has revived memories of nationwide riots in 2005 that forced then-President Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency after the death of two you men electrocuted in a power substation as they hid from police.

"Quite simply, we're not ruling out any hypothesis and we'll see after tonight what the President of the Republic chooses", Darmanin said on Friday when asked whether the government could declare a state of emergency.

Players from the national soccer team issued a rare statement calling for calm. "Violence must stop to leave a way for mourning, dialogue, and reconstruction", they said on stat Kylian Mbappe's Instagram account.

Events including two concerts at the State de France on the outskirts of Paris were canceled, while Tour de France organizers said they were ready to adapt to any situation where the cycle race enters the country on Monday from Spain.

Crisis Meeting

Macron had left an EU Summit in Brussels on Friday early to attend a second cabinet crisis meeting in two days and asked social media to remove "the most sensitive" footage of rioting and to disclose identities of users fomenting violence.

Videos on social media showed urban landscapes ablaze. A tram was set alight in the eastern city of Lyon and 12 buses were gutted in a depot in Aubervilliers, northern Paris.

Darmanin met representatives from Meta, Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok. Snapchat said it had zero tolerance for content that promoted violence.

The policeman whom prosecutors say acknowledged firing a lethal at Nahel is in preventive custody under formal investigation for voluntary homicide, equivalent to being charged under Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions.

His lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, said his client had aimed at the driver's leg but was bumped when the car took off, causing him to shoot towards his chest. "Obviously (the officer) didn't want to kill the driver", Lienard said on BFM TV.


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