Rioting across France was less intense overnight, as tens of thousands of police were deployed in cities across the country after the funeral of a teenager, whose shooting by police has sparked nationwide unrest, the interior ministry said on Sunday.
The government poured 45,000 police onto the streets to try to keep a lid on potential trouble after the funeral of Nahel, a 17-year-old of Algerian and Moroccan parents, who was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.
Since then rioters have torched cars and public transport and looted stores, but also targeted town halls, police stations and schools - buildings that represent the French state.
The interior ministry said 719 people were arrested on Saturday night, fewer than the 1,311 the previous night and 875 on Thursday night.
"Forty-five thousand police officers and thousands of firefighters have been mobilised to enforce order. Their action ... made for a quieter night," the ministry said on its Twitter account.
The biggest flashpoint overnight was Marseille, where police fired teargas and fought street battles with youths around the city centre late into the night.
China, along with some Western nations, has warned its citizens to be vigilant due to the unrest, which could pose a significant challenge for France in the peak summer tourist season if it were to escalate around city centre landmarks.
China's Consulate General lodged a formal complaint to France after a bus carrying a Chinese tour group had its windows smashed in on Thursday, leading to minor injuries, China's Consular Affairs Office said on Sunday.
In Paris, police increased security at the city's landmark Champs Elysees avenue after a call on social media to gather there. The street, usually packed with tourists, was lined with security forces carrying out spot checks. Shop facades were boarded up to prevent potential damage and pillaging.
There were sporadic clashes in central Paris. Paris police said six public buildings were damaged and five officers wounded in the clashes overnight. Some 315 people were arrested in the city.
In the greater Paris region, the home of the conservative mayor of L'Hay-les-Roses was ransacked, and his wife and children targeted. The local prosecutor said an investigation into attempted murder has been opened.
There was also unrest in the Mediterranean city of Nice and the eastern city of Strasbourg.
President Emmanuel Macron postponed a state visit to Germany that was due to begin on Sunday to handle the worst crisis for his leadership since the "Yellow Vest" protests paralysed much of France in late 2018.
For Nahel's funeral, several hundred people lined up to enter Nanterre's grand mosque. Volunteers in yellow vests stood guard, while a few dozen bystanders watched from across the street.
The policeman whom prosecutors say acknowledged firing a lethal shot 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.
‘I’ll put a bullet in your head’
A YOUNG man who was in the car with the 17-year-old shot and killed by a police officer in France, sparking unrest across the country, has shared his story to ‘establish the truth’. The killing of Nahel Merzouk ignited long-simmering tensions between police and young people in France’s housing projects, who struggle with poverty and unemployment. He was shot during rush hour on Tuesday morning while driving a car in Nanterre, a small town on the outskirts of Paris.
A passenger in the car has released a video on social media saying he wants to “establish the truth ... because there are a lot of lies on social media”. Saying he wants to ‘tell you the story from A to Z’, the young man explains they borrowed the Mercedes and decided to go for a drive around Nanterre, adding: “We weren’t under the influence of any alcohol or drugs.” They were driving in the ‘I’ll put a bullet in your head’ bus lane when they noticed police motorbikes following them with flashing lights and stopped the car, Sky News reported.
He says an officer approached the window of the car and told Nahel to lower it before saying: “Cut the engine or I’ll shoot you.” The young man claims the officer then struck Nahel with the butt of his gun, then the second officer arrived and also hit Nahel with the butt of his weapon. He says the first officer then put a gun to Nahel’s head and said: “Don’t move or I’ll put a bullet in your head.” The young man alleges the second officer said: “Shoot him.”
He says the first officer then stuck Nahel again with the butt of the gun, causing him to release his foot from the brake pedal and making the car move forward. He says the second officer then fired his weapon, so Nahel put his foot on the acceler- ator. “I saw him in pain, he trembled,” he says. “We hit a bar- rier. I was afraid. I got out of the vehicle. And I ran away. I thought they might shoot me. So I ran.” He adds: “I’m shocked at what happened in front of me to my friend.”
The officer who shot and killed Nahel has asked his family for forgiveness. Nanterre public prosecutor Pascal Prache said officers tried to pull the teenager over because he looked so young and was driving a Mercedes with Polish licence plates in a bus lane.
He allegedly drove through a red light to avoid being stopped and then got stuck in traffic. 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. Prache said his initial investigation had led him to conclude the officer’s use of his weapon was not legally justified.
The officer has been put under formal investigation over voluntary homicide and is being held in preventive detention.