More than 600 people were arrested in France Thursday evening and into Friday morning as the country experienced its third day of rioting since police used deadly force on 17-year-old who attempted to evade arrest.
Some 40,000 police officers were deployed across France and at least 200 officers were injured after tensions boiled over in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where a police officer shot a teen, only identified by his first name, Nahel, on Tuesday.
Following a peaceful march Thursday afternoon in honor of Nahel, unrest spread across the country with protesters erecting barricades, lighting vehicles on fire and shooting fireworks at police in the streets of various towns.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Friday said police detained 667 people, denouncing what he called a night of “rare violence.” About 300 of those were arrested in the Paris region alone, according to the Paris police headquarters.
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Schools, town halls and police stations were targeted by people setting fires, and police used tear gas, water cannons and dispersion grenades against the rioters, a spokesperson for the Parisian police said.
Armored police vehicles could be seen clearing the streets in Nanterre, ramming through the charred remains of cars that had been flipped over and torched.
On the other side of Paris, in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, protesters lit a fire at the city hall and set a bus depot ablaze in Aubervilliers. Directly in the French capital, several stores with ransacked and fires burned in various areas.
In the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, regional authorities said police dispersed violent groups in the city center.
The violence also forced President Emmanuel Macron to leave an EU summit in Brussels, where France impacts European policymaking, and return to Paris where he held an emergency security meeting Friday.
The government has stopped short of declaring a state of emergency, which it declared in 2005 following weeks of rioting around France following the accidental death of two boys fleeing police.
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The rioting was prompted by a police officer who fired a single bullet at the teen following a pursuit, killing him. Police said the teen refused to pull his vehicle over and could have caused injury to others.
The officer’s name has not been released, which is standard practice in French criminal cases.
The accused officer was handed a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide after Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said his initial investigation led him to conclude “the conditions for the legal use of the weapon were not met.” The officer remains detained.
A preliminary charge means magistrates strongly suspect wrongdoing but wish to investigate more before sending a case to trial.
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Prache said officers tried to stop Nahel because he looked young and was driving in a bus lane. He allegedly ran a red light to avoid being stopped then got stuck in traffic.
Both officers said they drew their guns to prevent him from fleeing, with the officer who fired the shot saying he did so as he feared someone could be hit by the car, according to Prache.
Attorney Laurent-Franck Lienard, who is representing the officer, told French TV channel BFMTV that he was apologetic and “devastated,” adding that he did what he thought was necessary at the moment.
“He doesn’t get up in the morning to kill people,” Lienard said of the officer. “He really didn’t want to kill.”
The shooting, which was captured on video, shocked France and stirred up long-simmering tensions between police and young people.
The teenager’s family and their lawyers haven’t said the police shooting was race-related and they didn’t release his surname or details about him.
The unrest extended as far as Brussels, the Belgian capital city, where about a dozen people were detained.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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