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France protests: Funeral held for teen shot by police as 1,300 arrested overnight

Police unions issue warning to French government that they are at war with 'savage hordes of vermin'
Hundreds of protesters have been arrested since the police shooting of a teenage driver on 27 June (MEE/Alexandre Rito)

More than 1,300 people have been arrested overnight as widespread anger over the police shooting of a French teenager continues to rock France.

The death of 17-year-old Nahel M, who was shot in the chest by police while stopped for an alleged traffic violation on 27 June, has brought mass protests and civil unrest over institutional racism and police brutality.

Public transport has been suspended across the country, while French President Emmanuel Macron delayed a planned state visit to Germany.

As the country braced itself for a fifth day of protests, the funeral of Nahel began on Saturday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre where he had lived. An AFP reporter said a large crowd gathered at the local cemetery, while the atmosphere was tense.

Hundreds of people lined up to enter Nanterre's grand mosque for the funeral, which was guarded by volunteers in yellow vests.

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Government figures released early on Saturday said 1,350 vehicles and 234 buildings had been torched overnight.

There had been 2,560 incidents of fire set in public spaces, while 79 members of the security services had been wounded.

More than 45,000 officers, backed by light armoured vehicles and elite police units, were deployed across the country. A decree issued on Saturday gave Paris police the right to deploy drones in parts of the suburbs.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said that the average age of those arrested was 17, while the country's justice minister Eric Dupont-Moretti said 30 percent of the people arrested were under 18.

Demonstrators were set to gather at Place la Concorde, at the foot of the Champs-Elysees on Friday, but were told by police to disperse. In the city of Marseille, police deployed tear gas against crowds of people around dusk on Saturday, Reuters reported citing a witness.

One demonstrator, 22-year-old Louana, carrying a placard reading "Our blood flows on their uniforms", told Middle East Eye the unrest was a long time coming.

'The police in France are racist'

- Louana, protester

"The police in France are racist," she said.

"They try to hide it, but everyone is starting to wake up, and so much the better."

Friday's demonstrators included many left-wing activists. In a memo that MEE was able to consult, the French intelligence services expressed concern about this coming together between far-left movements and groups from working-class neighbourhoods. 

Khadija, 28, lives close to where Nahel was killed last Monday by a policeman. Since his death, she's been taking part in all the rallies.

"We don't exist in the eyes of some people. So now people from the suburbs are her," she said.

"We're here with our placards, and we're not pelting the police. What's happening isn't riots, it's a revolt. That's it, we can't take it any more!"

'Savage hordes'

On Friday, a number of police unions put out a statement in which they urged Macron to give them the power to deal with the "savage hordes of vermin" they said were rampaging across the country.

"All means must be put in place to restore the rule of law as quickly as possible," read the statement, which said the police were in a state of "war".

"It's no longer enough to call for calm, it must be imposed," said the Alliance Police Nationale and UNSA Police unions.

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The statement was disavowed by the overall head of the UNSA union federation, while a number of politicians denounced it as inflammatory.

"The 'unions' that call for civil war must learn to be silent. We have seen the murderous behaviour that this kind of talk leads to," tweeted left-wing political leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.

"The political power must take control of the police. Those who want calm do not throw oil on the fire!"

Macron also left an European Union summit in Brussels on Friday early to attend a second cabinet crisis meeting. The French president asked social media to remove "the most sensitive" footage of the protests.

Darmanin, the interior minister, met with officials from social media platforms Meta, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok.

A number of countries, including the UK, issued advice warning against visiting France as a result of the violence.

The killing of Nahel has reignited concerns about institutional racism in the police.

In a statement on Friday, the UN human rights office said France should see the incident as "a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement".

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