France riots: Macron urges parents to keep teens at home as disruption spreads

Three nights of violent demonstrations come after police shooting of teenager (17) in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre

French president Emmanuel Macron urged parents on Friday to keep teenagers at home and proposed restrictions on social media to quell rioting spreading across France.

The rioting follows the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old driver, and has resulted in the arrests so far of 875 people.

While Mr Macron held off on the option of declaring a state of emergency, his interior minister ordered a complete shutdown of all public bus and tram services across the country to take effect before sunset on Friday.

The Paris region had already announced such a shutdown to protect transport workers and passengers.


After a second crisis meeting with senior ministers, Mr Macron said social media platforms such as Snapchat and TikTok played a “considerable role” in fuelling copycat acts of violence during this week’s unrest.

He said his government would work with technology companies to establish procedures for “the removal of the most sensitive content”.

He did not specify the content he had in mind but said “I expect a spirit of responsibility from these platforms”.

French authorities also plan to request, when “useful,” the identities “of those who use these social networks to call for disorder or exacerbate the violence”, the president said.

Mr Macron said a third of the individuals arrested on Thursday were “young people, sometimes very young”, and that “it’s the parents’ responsibility” to keep their children at home.

“We sometimes have the feeling that some of them are living in the streets the video games that have intoxicated them,” he said of rioters.

He was speaking after a third night of unrest across France after a police officer shot and killed the teenager on Tuesday in the north-western Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Rioters erected barricades, lit fires and shot fireworks at police, who responded with tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades. Police said at least 200 police officers have been injured.

Mr Macron’s government has deployed 40,000 officers to restore order and make arrests over behaviour he described as “unacceptable and unjustifiable”.

He stopped short of announcing a state of emergency, a tactic used by a previous French government in 2005 to quell rioting after the accidental deaths of two boys while they fled police.

The rioting comes just over a year before Paris and other French cities rattled by violence are due to host 10,500 Olympians and millions of visitors for the summer Olympic Games.

The Paris 2024 organising committee said it was closely monitoring the situation and that preparations for the Olympics continued.

Armoured police vehicles rammed through the charred remains of cars that had been flipped and set ablaze in Nanterre.

A relative of the 17-year-old, who only has been identified by his first name, Nahel, said the boy’s family is of Algerian descent.

His burial will take place on Saturday, according to Nanterre mayor Patrick Jarry, who said the country needs to “push for changes” in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

“There’s a feeling of injustice in many residents’ minds, whether it’s about school achievement, getting a job, access to culture, housing and other life issues,” Mr Jarry said.

“I believe we are in that moment when we need to face the urgency (of the situation).”

Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said officers tried to pull Nahel 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 police officer accused of pulling the trigger has been handed a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide after Mr Prache said his initial investigation led him to conclude that the officer’s use of his weapon was not 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.

France’s national police agency said nearly half of the 875 people who have been detained were from the Paris region.

Dozens of towns and cities across France also had rioting. The unrest extended as far as Belgium’s capital, Brussels, where about a dozen people were detained and several fires were brought under control.

In several Paris neighbourhoods, groups of people hurled fireworks at security forces.

The police station in the city’s 12th district was attacked, while some shops were looted along Rivoli street, near the Louvre museum, and at the Forum des Halles, the largest shopping centre in central Paris.

In the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles, police tried to disperse violent groups in the city centre, regional authorities said.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin on Friday denounced what he called a night of “rare violence”.

His office described the large number of arrests as part of an overall government effort to be “extremely firm” with rioters.

Snapchat spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said that since Tuesday, the company has increased its moderation to detect and act on content related to the rioting in France.

“Violence has devastating consequences, and we have zero tolerance for content that promotes or incites hatred or violent behaviour on any part of Snapchat,” Ms Racusen said.

“We proactively moderate this type of content and when we find it, we remove it and take appropriate action. We do allow content that is factually reporting on the situation.”

The shooting, captured on video, shocked France and stirred up long-simmering tensions between police and young people in disadvantaged areas.

The detained police officer’s lawyer, speaking on French TV channel BFMTV, said the officer was sorry and “devastated”.

The officer did what he thought was necessary in the moment, Laurent-Franck Lienard told the news outlet.

“He doesn’t get up in the morning to kill people,” Mr Lienard said of the officer, whose name has not been released under French practice in criminal cases.

“He really didn’t want to kill.”

Nahel’s mother, identified as Mounia M, told France 5 television that she was angry at the officer who killed her only child 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.

Nahel’s grandmother, who was not identified by name, told Algerian television Ennahar TV that her family has roots in Algeria.

Algeria’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the family’s grief was widely shared there.

In the wake of Nahel’s killing, French antiracism activists renewed complaints about police behaviour in general.

Race was a taboo topic for decades in France, which is officially committed to a doctrine of colourblind universalism.

But some increasingly vocal groups say that this consensus conceals widespread discrimination and racism.

Thirteen people who did not comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police last year.

This year another three people, including Nahel, died under similar circumstances.

The deaths have prompted demands for more accountability in France, which also saw protests against racial injustice after George Floyd’s killing by police in the United States.

In Geneva, the United Nations human rights office said it was concerned by the teenager’s killing and the subsequent violence and said allegations of disproportionate use of force by authorities in quelling the unrest must be swiftly investigated.

“This is a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement,” spokesman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters.

Ms Shamdasani said the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern in December about “the frequent use of identity checks, discriminatory stops, the application of criminal fixed fines imposed by the police or law enforcement agencies, that they said disproportionately targets members of certain minority groups”.

This week’s protests echoed the three weeks of rioting in 2005 that followed the deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traore and 17-year-old Zyed Benna, who were electrocuted while hiding from police in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois. – AP