French President Emmanuel Macron has urged parents to keep child rioters off the streets and called on social media platforms to remove the “most sensitive” content related to the three nights of rioting sparked by the fatal police shooting of a teenager of North African descent.
Speaking after chairing a crisis security meeting on Friday, the 45-year-old head of state said about a third of the people arrested over the rioting were “young or very young”.
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“It’s the responsibility of parents to keep them at home,” he said. “It’s not the state’s job to act in their place.”
Appealing to social media firms, Macron said: “Platforms and networks are playing a major role in the events of recent days.”
“We’ve seen them – Snapchat, TikTok and several others – serve as places where violent gatherings have been organised, but there’s also a form of mimicry of the violence, which for some young people leads them to lose touch with reality.
“You get the impression that for some of them, they are experiencing on the street the video games that have intoxicated them,” he added.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Nanterre outside Paris, said many of the protesters were aged 14 to 18, according to the French police.
“Police say that they seem to be very organised, very motivated,” she added.
According to her, Macron also said there will be more police officers deployed across the country.
What the French leader did not allow, she said, was implementing a state of emergency at this time.
Hundreds injured, arrested
Violence flared in Marseille, Lyon, Pau, Toulouse and Lille as well as parts of Paris, including the working class suburb of Nanterre, where Nahel M, who was of Algerian and Moroccan descent, was shot dead on Tuesday during a traffic stop.
More than 200 police were injured and 875 people arrested overnight, authorities said on Friday. Rioters clashed with officers in towns and cities across France with buildings, buses and other vehicles torched and stores looted.
The government would consider “all options” for restoring order, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told reporters after calling the violence “intolerable and inexcusable” in a tweet.
“I don’t have much hope that they are going to go to prison,” the head of the Alliance police union, Rudy Manna, told Europe 1 radio on Friday.
In the southern city of Marseille, France’s second-largest, authorities banned public demonstrations set for Friday, said all public transport would stop at 7pm (17:00 GMT), and encouraged restaurants to close outdoor eating areas early.
A Paris public transportation source told broadcaster BFM TV that tram and bus services in the capital would end at 9pm (19:00 GMT) each day until further notice.
In an earlier bid to quell the violence, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had on Thursday night increased national police deployments fourfold to 40,000 officers, 249 of whom were injured, the ministry said.
Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said several staff of power distribution firm Enedis were also injured by stones thrown during the protests.
The interior ministry said 79 police posts were attacked overnight as well as 119 public buildings, including 34 town halls and 28 schools.
‘Deep issues of racism’
In Geneva, the United Nations human rights office emphasised the importance of peaceful assembly and urged French authorities to ensure that use of force by police is legal, proportional and non-discriminatory.
“This is a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said.
Rights groups allege systemic racism inside law enforcement agencies in France, a charge Macron has denied. In 2020, his government promised “zero tolerance” of racism within law enforcement agencies.
The policeman who prosecutors said had acknowledged firing a lethal shot at Nahel M was on Thursday placed under formal investigation for voluntary homicide – equivalent to being charged in Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions. He is being held in preventive custody.
His lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, said his client had aimed down towards the driver’s leg but was bumped, causing him to shoot towards the teenager’s chest.
“Obviously, [the officer] didn’t want to kill the driver,” Lienard said on BFM TV.
Some Western governments warned their citizens in France to exercise caution.
Americans “should avoid mass gatherings and areas of significant police activity”, the US embassy said in a tweet while UK authorities warned Britons of possible curfews and disruptions to transport.