President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday informed Berlin he was postponing a state visit to deal with the urban rioting that has rocked France for the last four nights, as the 17-year-old whose killing by police sparked the protests was laid to rest.
Police arrested 1,311 people overnight Friday to Saturday, the highest figure since the violent protests began over the point-blank killing by a policeman of Nahel M. in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday.
Shops were ransacked and town halls attacked in various locations nationwide, despite the interior ministry sending out 45,000 members of the police and also armoured vehicles to deal with the rioting.
The protests over the death of teenager Nahel M., who was of Algerian origin, have again exposed the severe racial tensions in modern France and increased scrutiny on the police who have long been accused of singling out minorities.
The crisis is a hugely unwelcome development for Macron, who was looking forward to pressing on with his second mandate after seeing off protests that erupted in January over raising the pensions age.
The German presidency announced that Macron spoke by telephone with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier “and informed him of the situation in his country” as he requested the visit scheduled to begin Sunday be postponed.
The move is hugely embarrassing for Macron who earlier this year was forced to postpone a visit by Britain’s King Charles III to France due to the protests over pensions.
‘Peaceful and constructive ways’
Nahel’s funeral ceremony began in the Paris suburb of Nanterre where he lived, with a large crowd gathering at the local cemetery in a tense atmosphere, an AFP reporter said.
The family wanted to be as intimate as possible, and far from the cameras. A ceremony is scheduled for early afternoon at the mosque in Nanterre and the interment will then take place in the giant Mont Valerien cemetery in the area.
In a rare intervention on a social issue, the French national football team, many of whose top players are of minority background, joined calls for an end to the clashes.
“The time of violence must give way to that of mourning, dialogue and reconstruction,” the team said in a statement posted on social media by captain and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.
Les Bleus said they were “shocked by the brutal death of young Nahel” but asked that violence give way to “other peaceful and constructive ways of expressing oneself”.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that overall the scale of violence was less intense than previous nights but there was still intense rioting in certain areas including the cities of Marseille, Lyon and Grenoble, with bands of often-hooded rioters pillaging shops.
Provisional ministry numbers released early Saturday said 1,350 vehicles and 234 buildings had been torched overnight, and there had been 2,560 incidents of fire set in public spaces.
The ministry also said 79 police or gendarmes had been injured.
The southern port city of Marseille was again the scene of clashes and looting from the centre and further north in the long-neglected low-income neighbourhoods that Macron visited at the start of the week.
In a bid to limit the violence and trams in France have stopped running after 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) and the sale of large fireworks and inflammable liquids has been banned.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also announced the cancellation of large-scale events across the country, which included two concerts this weekend by hugely popular singer Mylene Farmer at the Stade de France venue.
Macron, who initially denounced an “unforgivable” death, also Friday criticised an “unacceptable exploitation of a death of an adolescent” in some quarters and vowed to work with social networks to curb “copycat violence”.
He also urged parents to take responsibility for underage rioters, one-third of whom were “young or very young”.
The UN rights office said Friday that the killing of the teen of North African descent was “a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement”.
The unrest has raised concerns abroad, with France hosting the Rugby World Cup in the autumn and then the Paris Olympic Games in the summer of 2024.
Britain and other European countries updated their travel advice to warn tourists to stay away from areas affected by the rioting.
“Our hotel members have suffered a wave of cancellations of reservations in all the territories affected by the damage and clashes,” said chef Thierry Marx, president of the main association for hotel and catering industry employers.
A 38-year-old policeman has been charged with voluntary homicide over the teenager’s death ,and has been remanded in custody.