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Hundreds arrested and a mayor's home attacked as protests roil France for a 5th night

Police officers walk as they try to disperse protesters with tear gas during a demonstration against police in Marseille, southern France on July 1.
Clement Mahoudeau
/
AFP via Getty Images
Police officers walk as they try to disperse protesters with tear gas during a demonstration against police in Marseille, southern France on July 1.

Police in France have arrested more than 700 protesters over the course of a fifth consecutive night of violence across several major cities, including its two largest, the capital Paris and the port city of Marseille.

The clashes between tens of thousands of police officers and largely young men out on the streets occurred in city centers, as well as suburbs and small towns, in response to the death of Nahel M., a 17-year-old teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer Tuesday after being stopped for a traffic violation.

Large groups engaged in running battles with heavily armed riot police wearing protective clothing — cat and mouse-like encounters involving provocation and response that continued into the early hours of Sunday in some of France's most iconic locations, like the old port of Marseille.

Tourists in several parts of France watched as protesters — some as young as 14 — clashed with law enforcement.

President Emmanuel Macron had swiftly condemned the death of the teenage driver of Algerian descent, known only by his first name, as "inexplicable," but the French leader has also urged parents to take responsibility for teenagers who have been participating in conflagrations up and down the country, often without the knowledge of their family members.

"No justice, no peace," one young man screamed into an NPR reporter's microphone, as he sprinted away from helmeted police in Marseille who are among the 45,000 officers deployed into public places by authorities. Despite the hundreds arrested, officials said rioting had been somewhat calmer than on Friday night.

In cities like Marseille, commanders used vans to block streets and discourage large congregations of angry demonstrators, utilizing tear gas to disperse larger groups while helicopters hovered overhead monitoring crowd movements.

Police violence and perceived discrimination along ethnic, racial and socio-economic lines have long angered minority communities in France, and though more than a decade has passed since riots of this magnitude last occurred, the ferocity of the response to the teenager's killing seems to have taken political authorities by surprise.

In one Parisian suburb, L'Hay-les-Roses, prosecutors launched an investigation into attempted murder after the local mayor's home was rammed by a car that was subsequently set on fire, injuring the wife and one child of mayor Vincent Jeanbrun.

He said the personally-targeted attack presented a new level of "horror and ignominy" in the current outbreak of civil unrest, while town halls, schools, police buildings and hundreds of stores have also been damaged by fire or acts of vandalism over the past few days.

Eleanor Beardsley contributed reporting from Marseille contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Willem Marx