France protests ease as Macron set to meet mayors of affected towns

Violent demonstrations erupted after police shooting of youth Nahel Merzouk in Paris suburb

Violent protests in France over the police shooting of teenager Nahel Merzouk appeared to ease after five nights of unrest as crowds gathered at town halls across the country to show solidarity with local governments targeted in the violence.

Police made 49 arrests nationwide on Sunday, French media reported, citing the interior ministry, down significantly from 719 arrests the day before, and 1,300 on Friday.

A burning car was rammed into the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of L’Haÿ-les-Roses over the weekend, an unusually personal attack that authorities said would be prosecuted as an attempted homicide.

The attack prompted an outpouring of support for local governments in many towns where the city hall is often central to public life.


On Tuesday French president Emmanuel Macron will meet mayors of 220 towns and cities affected by the protests, his office said, after a crisis meeting on Sunday night with government ministers. The president had been due to fly to Germany on Sunday for a state visit that was cancelled due to the crisis.

The ebbing violence follows an appeal for calm from the grandmother of Mr Merzouk, the 17-year-old killed on Tuesday during a police traffic stop in a Paris suburb.

“Stop rioting, stop destroying,” the grandmother, named as Nadia, told BFMTV. “I say this to those who are rioting: do not smash windows, attack schools and buses. Stop. It’s mothers who take those buses.” The rioters, mostly minors, were “using Nahel as an excuse”, she said. “We want things to calm down.” Her grandson was buried on Saturday.

Politicians have condemned the burning car attack on the home of Vincent Jeanbrun, the mayor of L’Haÿ-les-Roses, 15km south of Paris, at about 1.30am on Sunday while his family were asleep. Mr Jeanbrun was at the town hall at the time, but his wife and one of his two children, aged five and seven, were injured as they fled. Mr Jeanbrun’s wife sustained a broken leg.

“Last night was a new milestone in horror and disgrace,” the mayor, from the conservative Les Républicains party, tweeted, condemning “an act of unspeakable cowardice”.

Mr Jeanbrun told French television on Monday: “My wife fled into the garden with our two children. You have to imagine the scene, in complete darkness, with only the light from the fire and the flares they the rioters had.”

The mayor said his wife had been worried about the possibility of their home being targeted and had suggested putting a ladder at the bottom of the garden to scale the wall.

“I thought that was excessive, but she was so right … she had the courage to take the children and get them to the other side of the wall, but in the panic she fell over it and broke her knee. You can imagine the trauma, the psychological consequences for my wife and children. They are asking questions like ‘are they going to come back?’ and ‘can we go home?,” Mr Jeanbrun said.

Regional prosecutor Stéphane Hardouin opened an attempted murder investigation on Sunday, telling French television that a preliminary investigation suggested the intention to ram the house was to set it ablaze. “First indications suggest the car was driven into the building in order to set fire to it,” Mr Hardouin said, adding that a Coca-Cola bottle filled with flammable liquid had also been found at the scene.

Rioters also entered the garden of another mayor, in La Riche, outside the city of Tours, and tried to set light to his car, prosecutors said. Politicians of all parties expressed outrage at the attacks.

By Monday morning, a GoFundMe page to support the police officer charged over the killing of the youth had attracted more than €800,000 in donations. The officer was “doing his job and was now paying a high price for it”, the page read.

More than 3,000 people have been detained since Tuesday, after the mass deployment of 45,000 police officers around the country. Over the weekend, interior minister Gérald Darmanin said the deployment would be unchanged, after protesters torched cars, looted shops, damaged infrastructure and clashed with police on Saturday night.

The Paris police chief said it was too early to say the unrest had been quashed. “There was evidently less damage, but we will remain mobilised in the coming days. We are very focused; nobody is claiming victory,” Laurent Nuñez said. – Guardian/AP