Macron Cancels Trip to Germany as Race-Fuelled Riots Rage On

Demonstrators clash with police after a march protesting the shooting of Nahel, 17, by a p
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NANTERRE, France (AP) – President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday scrapped an official trip to Germany after a fourth straight night of rioting and looting across France in defiance of a massive police deployment. Hundreds turned out for the burial of the 17-year-old whose killing by police triggered the unrest.

France’s Interior Ministry announced that in the latest night of violence, 1,311 people had been arrested around the country, where 45,000 police officers fanned out in a so-far unsuccessful bid to restore order. In the violence sparked by the teen’s death on Tuesday, some 2,400 persons have been arrested overall.

The protesters and rioters turned out on the streets of cities and towns, clashing with police, despite Macron’s appeal to parents to keep their children at home. About 2,500 fires were set and stores were ransacked, according to authorities.

The violence in France was taking a toll on Macron’s diplomatic profile. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s office said that Macron phoned on Saturday to request a postponement of what would have been the first state visit by a French president to Germany in 23 years. Macron had been scheduled to fly to Germany on Sunday evening for the visit to Berlin and two other German cities.

Macron’s office said he spoke with Steinmeier and, “given the internal security situation, the president (Macron) said he wishes to stay in France over the coming days.”

Given the importance of the French-German relationship on the European political scene, the scrapping of the official trip was a clear sign of the gravity of France’s unrest. Earlier this year, King Charles III canceled his first foreign visit as U.K. monarch, initially planned for France, because of intense protests over Macron’s pension reform plans.

The teen, identified only as Nahel, was shot during a traffic stop Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Video showed two officers at the window of the car, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager pulled forward, the officer fired once through the windshield.

Rituals to bid farewell to Nahel began on Saturday with a viewing of the open coffin by family and friends and culminated with his burial in a hilltop cemetery in that town.

At the cemetery’s entrance, with central Paris visible in the distance, hundreds of people stood along the road to pay tribute to Nahel. The crowd carried his white casket above their heads and into the cemetery for the burial, which was barred to the media. Some of the men carried folded prayer rugs. Before the burial, prayers were held at a mosque.

Applause resounded as Nahel’s mother Mounia M., dressed in white, walked through the gate and toward the grave. Earlier in the week she told France 5 television that she was angry at the officer who shot her son, but not at the police in general.

“He saw a little Arab-looking kid, he wanted to take his life,” she said. “A police officer cannot take his gun and fire at our children, take our children’s lives,” she said. Race was a taboo topic for decades in France, which is officially committed to a doctrine of colorblind universalism. The family has roots in Algeria.

The police officer accused of killing Nahel was given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide, meaning that investigating magistrates strongly suspect wrongdoing, but need to investigate more before sending a case to trial. Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said that his initial investigation led him to conclude that the officer’s use of his weapon wasn’t legally justified.

Anger over Nahel’s death erupted in violence in Nanterre and in many major cities, including Paris, Marseille and Lyon, and even in the French territories overseas, where a 54-year-old died after being hit by a stray bullet in French Guiana.

Hundreds of police and firefighters have been injured, including 79 overnight. Authorities haven’t released injury tallies for protesters.

The reaction to the killing was a potent reminder of the persistent poverty, discrimination, unemployment and other lack of opportunity in neighborhoods around France where many residents trace their roots to former French colonies — like where Nahel grew up.

“Nahel’s story is the lighter that ignited the gas. Hopeless young people were waiting for it. We lack housing and jobs, and when we have (jobs), our wages are too low,” said Samba Seck, a 39-year-old transportation worker in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.

Clichy was the birthplace of weeks of riots in 2005 that shook France, prompted by the deaths of two teenagers electrocuted in a power substation while fleeing from police. One of the boys lived in the same housing project as Seck.

Like many Clichy residents, he lamented the violence targeting his town, where the remains of a burned car stood beneath his apartment building, and the town hall entrance was set alight in rioting this week.

“Young people break everything, but we are already poor, we have nothing,” he said, adding that “young people are afraid to die at the hands of police.”

France’s national soccer team – including international star Kylian Mbappe, an idol to many young people in the disadvantaged neighborhoods where the anger is rooted – pleaded for an end to the violence.

“Many of us are from working-class neighborhoods, we too share this feeling of pain and sadness” over the killing of Nahel, the players said in a statement.

Early on Saturday, firefighters in Nanterre extinguished blazes set by protesters that left scorched remains of cars strewn across the streets. In the neighboring suburb Colombes, protesters overturned garbage bins and used them for makeshift barricades.

Looters during the evening broke into a gun shop and made off with weapons in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, police said.

Buildings and businesses were also vandalized in the eastern city of Lyon, police said.

Despite the escalating crisis, Macron held off on declaring a state of emergency, an option used in 2005. But government ratcheted up its law enforcement response, with the mass deployment of police officers, including some who were called back from vacation.

The rioting puts new pressure on Macron, who blamed social media for fueling violence.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has ordered a nationwide nighttime shutdown of all public buses and trams, which have been among rioters’ targets. He also said he warned social networks not to allow themselves to be used as channels for calls to violence.

“They were very cooperative,” Darmanin said, adding that French authorities were providing the platforms with information in hopes of cooperation identifying people inciting violence.

The violence comes just over a year before Paris and other French cities are due to host Olympic athletes and millions of visitors for the summer Olympic Games, whose organizers were closely monitoring the situation as preparations for the competition continue.

Thirteen people who didn’t 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 racial justice protests after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.

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