France is now on its third day of violent protests after a police officer shot and killed a teenager.
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the rioting which resulted in the burning of cars, looting of shops, and hundreds arrested by law enforcement.
“A third of those arrested last night are young, even very young”, Macron said in a statement after a crisis meeting of ministers, as he decried the “unacceptable situation”.
“Nothing justifies violence. Stopping short of declaring a state of emergency. There is an unacceptable instrumentalization of the death of a teenager, which we all deplore when the period should be one of meditation and respect”, he said.
The unrest in France started after 17-year-old Nael M. was killed by a police officer during a traffic check on Tuesday.
Nahel was shot and killed as he pulled away from police who were trying to stop him for a traffic infraction.
A video, verified by AFP, showed two police officers standing by the side of the car, with one pointing a weapon at the driver.
A voice can be heard saying: “You are going to get a bullet in the head.”
The police officer then appears to fire as the car abruptly drives off.
The Nanterre prosecutor’s office said that the officer suspected of shooting him has been detained and will face potential manslaughter charges.
The eruption of violence saw 249 police and gendarmes injured, according to France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called on Thursday.
About 40,000 police and gendarmes – along with elite Raid and GIGN units – were deployed in several cities, with curfews imposed in municipalities around Paris and bans on public gatherings instated in Lille and Tourcoing in the country’s north.
The rioters, however, did not face the ready law enforcement officers but rather took to looting of shops, particularly, Nike and Zara in Paris.
The police reported that rioters used a truck to force open the entrance to a shopping center. It was then partly looted and burned.
Firefighters worked throughout the night in the northern municipality of Roubaix. A hotel near the train station was set ablaze, sending many residents to seek shelter in the streets.
Nanterre was the center of the unrest, with fireworks and explosives going off in the Pablo Picasso district, where Nahel had lived.
Public buildings were also targeted. A police station in the Pyrenees city of Pau was hit with a Molotov cocktail and an elementary school and a district office were set on fire in Lille. A library was also vandalized in the city center of Marseille.
A memorial march for Nahel, led by Mounia, his mother, ended with riot police firing tear gas as several cars were set on fire in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, where the teenager lived and was killed.
Paris bus and tram services were halted after 9:00 pm local time Thursday as part of measures to tackle the violence, but it did little.
Mounia in an interview said; “I don’t blame the police. I blame one person: the one who took the life of my son.”
The name of the officer was not released as with French practice in criminal cases.
The officer’s lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, told BFMTV late Thursday that his client had apologized as he was taken into custody.
The attorney said his client was sorry and “devastated” but did what he thought was necessary at the moment. “He doesn’t get up in the morning to kill people… He really didn’t want to kill.”
France is all out to avoid a repetition of the 2005 urban riots which saw 6,000 people arrested. The civil unrest was caused by the death of two boys of African origin in a police chase.