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Police make over 100 arrests in France as unrest spreads to multiple communities after the murder of 17-year-old by police

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Angry protesters have set cars and public buildings ablaze in Paris suburbs after police fatally shot a 17-year-old boy, spreading unrest to other French cities and towns, despite strengthened security measures and the president’s pleas for calm.

The public was stunned by the shooting of Nael, 17, on Tuesday during a traffic check, which was caught on camera. This incident sparked long-simmering tensions between young people and police in housing projects and other underprivileged areas throughout France. Nael’s surname has not been made public by his family or by authorities.

The government sent out 2,000 police to keep the peace Wednesday after clashes broke out on Tuesday night in and around the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where Nael was killed. However, after dusk, violence returned.

According to a national police spokeswoman, officers and firefighters worked through the night to put out many fires that destroyed schools, police stations, town halls, and other public buildings. The national police on Thursday recorded fires or skirmishes in numerous towns overnight, from Lille in the north to Toulouse in the south, while Nanterre and other Paris districts served as the focal point of tensions.

150 people were detained by the police across the nation, with more than half of them being in the Paris district, the spokeswoman said. According to police regulations, it was not permitted to publicly identify her.

The number of injured victims was not immediately released.

President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency security meeting on Thursday to address the violence.

In Nanterre, several cars were set on fire, protesters threw rocks and fireworks at the police, who responded by firing repeated volleys of tear gas. Three stories of a building caught fire, and an electrical plant was also reported to be on fire. The town hall of L’Ile-Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb close to the national stadium and the Paris 2024 Olympic headquarters, was damaged by fire.

According to the Nanterre prosecutor’s office, the police officer who is accused of the killing is being held on suspicion of manslaughter and might be charged with preliminary offences as early as Thursday.

Nael’s mother requested a silent procession Thursday at the square where Nael was killed.

Activists in France have renewed their calls for action against what they see to be systemic police brutality, particularly in areas like the one where Nael lived where many people experience poverty and racial or class discrimination. Government representatives condemned the killing and made efforts to exclude themselves from the police officer’s actions.

Macron, however, referred to the killing as “inexplicable and inexcusable” and called for calm. “Nothing justifies the death of a young person,” he said to reporters in Marseille on Wednesday.

Videos of the killing circulated online show two police officers leaning into a yellow car’s driver-side window before the vehicle drives off as one of the policemen fires into the window. The car later crashed into a nearby post in the video.

The prosecutor’s office revealed that the driver died at the scene.

In the aftermath of the killing, bouquets of orange and yellow roses now mark the site of the shooting, on Nanterre’s Nelson Mandela Square.

Addressing the Parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said, “the shocking images broadcast yesterday show an intervention that appears clearly not to comply with the rules of engagement of our police forces.”

Compared to the US, the deadly use of firearms in France is less common, although many people have died or sustained injuries at the hands of French police in recent years, leading to demands for more accountability. Following the murder of George Floyd by Minnesotan police, there were demonstrations against racial profiling and other forms of injustice in France as well.

When questioned by reporters about police misconduct, President Macron responded that justice should be allowed to run its course.

Yassine Bouzrou, a lawyer for Nael’s family, told reporters that they wish to see the police officer charged with murder rather than manslaughter.

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