Tens of thousands of police were deployed in cities across France on Saturday ready for a potential fifth night of rioting after the funeral of a teenager of North African descent, whose shooting by police sparked nationwide unrest.
President Emmanuel Macron postponed a state visit to Germany that was due to begin on Sunday to handle the worst crisis for his leadership since the “Yellow Vest” protests paralysed much of France in late 2018.
Some 45,000 police would again be on the street into Saturday night, interior minister Gerald Darmanin said, with reinforcements going to Lyon and Marseille.
Police deployed tear gas against rioters in Marseille’s main high street around dusk on Saturday, according to a witness.
In Paris police cleared protesters from the Place de la Concorde and increased security at the city’s landmark Champs Elysees avenue after a call on social media to gather there. TV images showed shop facades covered with boards to prevent potential damage.
The interior ministry said 1,311 people had been arrested on Friday night, compared with 875 the previous night, although it described the violence as “lower in intensity”.
Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said more than 700 shops supermarkets, restaurants and bank branches had been “ransacked, looted and sometimes even burnt to the ground since Tuesday”.
Local authorities all over the country announced bans on demonstrations and ordered public transport to stop running in the evening.
Nahel, a 17-year-old of Algerian and Moroccan parents, was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.
For the funeral, several hundred people lined up to enter Nanterre’s grand mosque, which was guarded by volunteers in yellow vests, while a few dozen bystanders watched from across the street.
Some of the mourners, their arms crossed, said “God is Greatest” in Arabic, as they spanned the boulevard in prayer.
Marie, 60, said she had lived in Nanterre for 50 years and there had always been problems with the police.
“This absolutely needs to stop. The government is completely disconnected from our reality,” she said.
“If you have the wrong skin colour, the police are much more dangerous to you,” said a young man, who declined to be named, adding that he was a friend of Nahel’s.
Nahel was known to police for previously failing to comply with traffic stop orders and was illegally driving a rental car, the Nanterre prosecutor said on Thursday.
Macron has denied there is systemic racism in French law enforcement agencies.
Rioters have torched 2,000 vehicles since the start of the unrest. More than 200 police officers have been injured, Darmanin said, adding that the average age of those arrested was 17.
Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti said 30% of detainees were under 18.
In Marseille, where 80 people had been arrested on Friday, police said they had detained 14 more as they tried to disperse crowds.
“It’s very scary. We can hear a helicopter and are just not going out because it’s very worrying especially on the Old Port,” said Tatiana Corbellini, 79, a pensioner who lives in the city centre.
Mayor Benoit Payan called on the government to send extra troops to tackle “pillaging and violence” in Marseille, where three police officers were slightly wounded on Saturday.
In Lyon, France’s third largest city, police deployed armoured personnel carriers and a helicopter, while in Paris, they cleared protesters from the Place de la Concorde.
A decree issued on Saturday gave Paris police the right to deploy drones in parts of the suburbs.
The unrest has revived memories of nationwide riots in 2005 that forced then President Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency, after the death of two young men electrocuted in a power substation as they hid from police.
Players from the national soccer team issued a rare statement calling for calm. “Violence must stop to leave way for mourning, dialogue and reconstruction,” they said on star Kylian Mbappe’s Instagram account.
The South Winners supporters group, an influential fan group for Olympique de Marseille, called on the city’s youth to “be wise and show restraint”.
“By acting in this way you are dirtying Nahel’s memory and are also dividing our city.”
Events including two concerts at the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris were cancelled, while LVMH-owned (LVMH.PA) fashion house Celine cancelled its 2024 menswear show on Sunday, creative director Hedi Slimane said on Instagram.
Tour de France organisers said they were ready to adapt to any situation when the cycle race enters the country on Monday from Spain.
With the government urging social media companies to remove inflammatory material, Darmanin met officials from Meta, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok. Snapchat said it had zero tolerance for content that promoted violence.
The policeman whom prosecutors say acknowledged firing a lethal shot at Nahel is in preventive custody under formal investigation for voluntary homicide, equivalent to being charged under Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions.
His lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, said his client had aimed at the driver’s leg but was bumped when the car took off, causing him to shoot towards his chest. “Obviously (the officer) didn’t want to kill the driver,” Lienard said on BFM TV.