Why are there riots in France and where are they?

French President Emmanuel Macron chairs an emergency meeting of senior ministers following a second night of unrest following the police killing of a 17-year-old boy named Nahel in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

As of Thursday, there had been 150 arrests nationwide. Police and firefighters struggled to contain the protesters and put out numerous fires throughout the night that damaged schools, police stations, city halls and other public buildings, according to a spokesman for the national police.

Authorities also sparked fires or fighting again overnight in several cities, from Toulouse in the south to Lille in the north – although Nanterre and the surrounding areas remained the hub.

What happened during the shooting?

The 17-year-old, identified as Nahel, was driving a car on Tuesday morning when he was pulled over for violating traffic rules, prosecutors said. The teenager was too young to hold a full driving license in France.

Police initially reported that an officer shot the teenager because he drove his car towards him. However, this version of events was quickly contradicted by a video circulating on social media.

On Thursday, Nanterre prosecutors said that witness statements, CCTV video footage, amateur video footage and statements from police tenders were used to compile the timetable of Tuesday morning’s events.

Pascal Prache confirmed that at 7.55am on Tuesday, two motorcycle police officers noticed a Mercedes with a young driver and two passengers speeding in a bus lane.

The police twice tried to get the car to stop and park, but the driver kept going and the two police officers pursued the vehicle.

The Mercedes had to stop at a traffic light, whereupon the police asked the driver to switch off the engine and get out of the vehicle.

Police officers said they drew their guns and pointed them at the driver to prevent him from driving the vehicle. However, the driver drove off, after which the police decided to shoot.

A bullet hit the driver through the arm and chest, and the car went down. One of the passengers fled. At 8:21 a.m., firefighters were called to the scene of the accident. They gave the driver first aid, but it was unsuccessful.

The officer who fired a single shot said he wanted to stop the car driving away and was concerned that someone might be hit by the car, including himself or his colleague, Mr Prache said.

The police officer is being investigated for voluntary killing because he shot Nahel.

Based on an initial investigation, prosecutor Prache came to the conclusion that “the prerequisites for the legal use of the weapon were not met”.

How did the riots start?

Nahel was of North African descent. The incident has long prompted complaints of police violence and systemic racism within law enforcement from human rights groups and in the ethnically diverse suburbs surrounding major French cities.

Several people have died or been injured at the hands of French police in recent years, leading to calls for more accountability. Protests against racial profiling and other injustices also erupted in France after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.

Tuesday’s killing was the third fatal shooting at traffic stops in France so far in 2023. There were a record 13 such shootings last year, a spokesman for the national police said.

According to a Reuters tally, there were three such killings in 2021 and two in 2020, showing the majority of victims since 2017 have been black or of Arab descent.

Clashes erupted for the first time in and around the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday evening, where Nahel was killed. Garbage cans were set on fire and some protesters threw firecrackers at police. Officials used tear gas against the crowd. The government deployed 2,000 police officers on Wednesday to maintain order. But after dark, violence broke out again.

How far has the unrest spread?

Police and firefighters struggled to contain the protesters and put out numerous fires throughout the night that damaged schools, police stations, city halls and other public buildings, according to a spokesman for the national police.

The national police reported fires or skirmishes in several cities overnight on Thursday, from Toulouse in the south to Lille in the north, although Nanterre and other Paris suburbs have been the nexus of tensions.

Police arrested 180 people across the country on Wednesday evening, more than half of them in the Paris region. Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin said 170 officers were injured in the riots but none of the injuries were life-threatening.

The riots have brought back memories of the 2005 riots that shook France for three weeks and forced then-President Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency.

This wave of violence erupted in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois and spread across the country after two young people hiding from police were electrocuted at a power substation.

Two officers were acquitted in a trial ten years later.

What was the government’s reaction?

President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency meeting with senior ministers over the shooting on Thursday morning, and Mr Darmanin subsequently announced that 40,000 police officers would be deployed across the country on Thursday evening, including 5,000 in the Paris region, to bring the unrest to an end.

“The state’s response must be extremely decisive,” Mr Darmanin said.

Both Darmanin and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne have ruled out declaring a state of emergency for the time being.

On Wednesday, Mr Macron had said the shooting was unforgivable. When he called his emergency meeting, he also condemned the riots.

“The last few hours have been marked by scenes of violence against police stations, but also schools and town halls and thus institutions of the Republic, and these scenes are completely unjustified,” he said.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing russellfalcon@ustimespost.com.

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