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French mayors hold anti-riot rallies as violence eases

France beefs up New Year's security due to 'terrorist' threat
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Mayors across France held rallies Monday calling for an end to the violence that erupted after a teen was shot dead by police last week, as signs emerged that the unrest was beginning to ease.

The government has battled riots and looting since 17-year-old Nahel M. was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday, reviving long-standing accusations of racism against the French police.

Monday’s demonstrations calling for a “return to republican order” came after the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb was rammed by a burning car, prompting widespread outrage.

“Democracy itself has been attacked… this can’t continue and it won’t,” said Vincent Jeanbrun, the conservative mayor of L’Hay-les-Roses, whose home was attacked early Sunday.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the deployment of 45,000 police and gendarmes would be maintained on Monday and Tuesday nights.

“The priority is to ensure the return to order,” she announced.

A total of 157 people were arrested overnight Sunday to Monday — a fraction of the number held the night before. Three police officers were also hurt.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the average age of the 3,200 people arrested since the rioting began was 17, though some were “children, there is no other word, of 12 or 13”.

“The nights have been tough for residents since Tuesday,” when Nahel was killed, said Patrick Jarry, the mayor of Nanterre just west of Paris where the teen of Algerian origin lived.

“The string of violent episodes is unacceptable,” he added, calling for calm.

All bus and tram services in the Paris region remain suspended from 9 pm (1900 GMT).

But, in a move which could spark fresh anger, a collection for the family of the policeman who fired the fatal shot — now charged with voluntary manslaughter — topped one million euros ($1.1 million).

Politicians from the ruling centrist party condemned the collection — organised by a far-right figure — as “indecent” and dangerous.

PM Borne said the fund “probably does not help restore calm”.

Hard-left MP Mathilde Panot tweeted that “killing a young North African in France in 2023 can earn you a lot of money.”

– ‘Threatened with death’ –

Mayor Jeanbrun’s home was rammed with a burning car, with his wife breaking her leg as she escaped with her children aged five and seven.

The attack was widely condemned, with prosecutors opening an attempted murderĀ investigation.

“I never would have imagined that my family would be threatened with death,” Jeanbrun told French television.

And Nadia, the grandmother of Nahel, said Sunday that rioters were only using his death as a “pretext” and called for calm.

Although the violence appears to be diminishing, questions remain about the event that sparked it.

Investigators on Monday began interviewing a passenger in the car Nahel was driving without a licence, a security source told AFP.

Some also urged that lessons need to be learned from the unrest — the worst in France since the death of two youths fleeing police in 2005 sparked three weeks of rioting.

“I can’t support people smashing and burning things, who would?” said Fatiha Abdouni, 52, founder of a women’s association in Nahel’s home town Nanterre.

Nevertheless, “now we have to listen to the young people, their frustration and anger,” she added.

Youths in Paris’ deprived suburbs face “daily difficulties, unequal access to study, to work, to housing,” Abdouni said — needing only the “spark” of Nahel’s death to trigger the violence.

Tens of millions of euros in emergency support has been released to repair public buildings and small businesses around Paris and in two other regions.

The rioting caused some 20 million euros in damage to public transport in the Paris region alone, the regional operator said Monday. This included dozens of burned buses and a torched tramway.

The Medef business association meanwhile estimated damage of “over a billion euros” to companies, with more than 200 businesses looted and 300 bank offices destroyed.

– ‘Understand the reasons’ –

The protests present a fresh crisis for President Emmanuel Macron, who had been hoping to press on with pledges for his second term after seeing off months of demonstrations that erupted in January over raising the retirement age.

He was to meet the heads of the two chambers of parliament on Monday, and the mayors of more than 220 towns hit by the unrest on Tuesday, the Elysee said.

The latest violence has raised concerns abroad, with France hosting the Rugby World Cup in September and the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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