France sends in special forces to combat rioters

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France has dispatched its elite GIGN commandos to reinforce beleaguered police as the country braces for a fifth night of violence over the killing of Nahel Merzouk.

Some 45,000 police officers and gendarmes were mobilised on Saturday evening after the funeral of the 17-year-old police shooting victim in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Police officers on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Saturday during riots following the death of Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer in Nanterre during a traffic stop.Credit: Reuters

Arrests were made in cities across France with a police source quoted on BFMTV giving the number as 121.

A total of 43 people were arrested in the southern port city of Marseille after violence between rioters and police broke out, according to the Bouches-du-Rhone police headquarters.

“Since the beginning of the evening, all potentially violent groups in the city centre have been systematically dispersed by the police and gendarmes, if necessary with the use of tear gas,” the police said. “The situation is under control.”

Police officers stand guard in front of the Dior building during riots at the Champs-Elysees in Paris on July 1.Credit: Reuters

Officials also told the local media that 21 people had been arrested in Lyon and that 37 further arrests were made in Paris for people caught “carrying a weapon” following 375 searches. A total of 45 people were arrested in Paris and a heavy police presence has been seen along the Champs-Elysees.

Gregory Doucet, the mayor of Lyon, where dozens of police officers were injured on Friday night – including several by gunfire – called for urgent reinforcements, saying police in the city were “overwhelmed”.

Lyon, he said following a crisis meeting, “has been in the grip of riots of unprecedented intensity, damage and violence”.

The GIGN – France’s top hostage rescue unit, similar to the SAS – arrived in Marseille on Saturday evening, according to police in Bouches-du-Rhone, following a night of fierce clashes between police and protesters.

“The results of the night can be summed up in one word: apocalyptic,” Rudy Manna, of the Bouches-du-Rhone police union, said of Friday night.

“We had scenes of guerrillas in the centre of Marseille, the northern districts were also affected by looting, burning of vehicles and trash cans.”

Gerald Darmanin, the French interior minister, said “a lot of resources” were being sent to the two embattled cities, which have been home to some of the worst clashes since the unrest broke out on Tuesday.

As well as the elite counter-terror unit, armoured vehicles and helicopters were being sent to shore up security in Marseille.

Graffiti reading Justice for Nahel is seen on a wall nearby the mosque in which his funeral prayers were held, on July 1 in Nanterre, France.Credit: Getty

Despite the violence, curfews have not been introduced in either of the two cities.

French police on Saturday said their officers were being “ambushed” by rioters.

More than 200 policemen have been injured and over 700 businesses ransacked or burnt down since the police shooting of Merzouk sparked nationwide unrest on Tuesday.

Police made 1311 arrests overnight from Friday to Saturday – the most so far – but claimed the violence had been “lower in intensity” and with fewer cars and buildings set ablaze compared with previous nights.

A woman pays her respects at the site where Nahel Merzouk died in Nanterre, France.Credit: Getty

Meanwhile, hundreds of mourners gathered in Nanterre for Merzouk’s funeral on Saturday afternoon.

The funeral passed off peacefully, although correspondents described a tense atmosphere and mourners described anger at what they said was endemic police racism.

Merzouk, who was of Algerian and Moroccan descent, was driving a yellow Mercedes through Nanterre about 8am on Tuesday when he was shot. There were two other people in the vehicle at the time.

Police initially claimed the officer opened fire because the vehicle was driving towards them as if to hit them.

Charred cars and a bus are pictured in Lyon on Friday.Credit: Laurent Cipriani

But a social media video of the incident, which news agencies have confirmed, shows an officer pointing a gun through the stationary car window before opening fire as it drove away.

Prosecutors investigating the case said on Friday that two motorcycle officers involved told investigators that they tried to stop the car when they spotted it driving in a bus lane about 8am on Tuesday.

The driver ignored an initial request to stop and drove away through a red light, according to their account. They gave chase, pulled the car over, and pointed guns at the driver to “deter him from driving away again”.

Protesters say his killing is typical of a heavy-handed and racist approach to policing in France’s deprived racially mixed neighbourhoods.

The riots are France’s worst since the 2018 Yellow Vest protests brought the country to a standstill.

French television reported that at least four officers were wounded by shotgun fire in Vaulx-en-Velin, a suburb of Lyon, on Friday night.

The main public library in Marseille, France’s second-largest city, was burnt down on Thursday. Overnight looting on Friday continued into Saturday morning, sparking appeals from shopkeepers for French President Emmanuel Macron to “do something”.

The city’s mayor asked residents not to put out rubbish or other bulk items because of the risk they would be set on fire by rioters.

CRS 8, an elite riot squad, was deployed to Lyon after the city’s mayor issued a public appeal for reinforcements.

A man passes by a wall illuminated by a burning barricade on which is written “Police kills” in the centre of Lyon, central France, on Friday.Credit: AP

The unit, formed in 2021 as a rapid response force to tackle urban violence, consists of about 60 specialist officers trained to deploy from their base outside Paris within 15 minutes of the order being given.

It has previously been involved in a controversial operation to evict undocumented migrants from the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte.

Twelve people were arrested overnight Friday to Saturday in Lyon, where rioters have fired massed barrages of fireworks rockets and hurled tiles from rooftops at police.

Explosions were heard on the streets overnight on Saturday and looters hit businesses ranging from motorcycle dealers to luxury boutiques.

St Etienne, 65 kilometres south-east of Lyon, announced a curfew for unaccompanied minors from 7pm to 6pm.

Gael Perdriau, the city’s mayor, appealed to the state to “enforce order” by “all necessary means”.

With no sign of the riots easing, Macron cancelled a trip to Germany on Saturday.

Macron spoke on the phone on Saturday with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president, and briefed him on the situation, said a German spokesman.

The Telegraph, London

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