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Widespread Riots in France: What we know

There has been widespread violence across France after a teenager was shot dead at the hands of the police.


Nahel Merzouck, 17, was of Algerian and Moroccan descent. He was shot by a police officer at a traffic stop on Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre - four miles northwest of Paris.


The Economist wrote that the protests “first broke out after a traffic policeman on June 27th shot dead a teenager (Nahel Merzouk) in a rented car who failed to obey orders to stop.”


In a video of the incident which circulated online, two officers can be seen at the window of a yellow Mercedes AMG which officials say Nahel was driving ‘erratically’. One officer pointed a gun through the car’s window and as Nahel attempted to speed off a gunshot can be heard, the car then crashed and the young man died there and then from a bullet wound to the chest.


People took to the streets of Nanterre to protest, setting cars aflame and pelting stones and fireworks at the police - who responded with tear gas.


Around 2,500 fires were set and stores were ransacked. Buildings, including school, town halls, and the headquarters of the Paris 2023 Olympics in nearby Seine-Saint-Denis, were also set on fire.


In Nanterre, protestors torched cars, barricaded streets, and hurled projectiles at police following a vigil. As the violence spread from Toulouse to Dijo and Lille more than 667 people were arrested following a third day of protests on Friday.


So far, 40,000 police officers have been deployed to tackle nationwide unrest, 5000 in Paris alone.


French President Emmanuel Macron said, during a visit to Marseille, “Nothing can justify the death of a young person.” He condemned the police’s actions, describing them as “inexplicable and unforgivable.”


France has a long-standing history of violence between police and young people in housing projects who struggle with poverty, unemployment, and racial discrimination.


Nahel’s killing became the catalyst for the riots to ensue and is one of the worst riots France has seen in years. His grandmother said rioters were using the death of her 17-year-old grandson as an ‘excuse’ and urged them to stop destroying public goods.


While the President has been urged to get a grip on the crisis, photos of him meeting Elton John a day after the shooting on Wednesday circulated online.


On Sunday evening, the President held a security meeting with the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borner, interior minister Gerald Darmanin and justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.


A funeral for Nahel was held in Nanterre on Saturday afternoon. Several hundred people lined up to enter Nanterre’s grand mosque, which was guarded by volunteers in yellow vests, while a dozen bystanders watched from across the streets.


The police officer who shot Nahel has been put under formal investigation over voluntary homicide and is being held in prison in preventive detention.


(Photo by Richard Bouhet/AFP via Getty Images)


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