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Unrest, clashes erupt for 3rd day in France over teenager’s killing by police

The mother of killed 17-year-old Nahel attends a march on June, 29, 2023, in Nanterre, France. (Photo by AP)

Unrest and clashes have erupted for a third day in a row in France as protests rage on over the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy by police during a traffic stop in the capital Paris, as thousands kept a vigil.

The shooting dead of Nahel M, who was of North African origin, during a police traffic stop in the Parisian suburb town of Nanterre on Tuesday, took thousands of angry protesters to the streets to express their strong dissent against police brutality.

The tragic incident has fed into a deep-rooted perception of police violence and systemic racism inside law enforcement agencies from rights groups and within the low-income, racially-mixed suburbs that formed around major cities in the European country.

On Thursday, infuriated demonstrators torched several cars in Nanterre, following a largely peaceful street march in memory of Nahel.

According to television images, protesters set up road barricades and hurled projectiles at lines of police, who fired back with tear gas canisters among demonstrating crowds.

At least one bank was reportedly ransacked.

"Vengeance for Nahel," was scrawled across buildings and bus shelters.

Earlier on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron held a crisis meeting with senior ministers over the shooting, the Elysee announced. Afterward, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne rejected calls from a number of political opponents for a state of emergency to be declared over the persisting situation.

Furthermore, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that 40,000 police officers would be deployed across France, nearly four times the numbers deployed a day earlier, including 5,000 in the Paris region in an attempt to quell the unrest.

At a march in Nanterre, a working-class town, held in memory of Nahel, demonstrators railed against what they view as a culture of police impunity and a failure to reform law enforcement in a country that has witnessed waves of rioting and protests over police conduct.

On the sidelines of the march, however, young protesters clashed with riot police, who resorted to firing tear gas canisters.

On Wednesday night, protesters set fire to rubbish bins and fireworks in Nanterre, as well as in other communes of the Hauts-de-Seine region, where the shooting took place. Clashes also spread from neighborhoods around the capital to other French cities, including Toulouse, Dijon and Lyon.

The 17-year-old victim was driving a rental car on Tuesday morning when police pulled him over for breaking several road rules, prosecutors said.

Police initially reported that one officer had shot at the teenager because he was driving his car at him. But this version of events was quickly contradicted by a video circulating on social media that was authenticated by French news agencies.

Nahel's killing was the third fatal shooting during a police traffic stop in France so far in 2023, down from a record of 13 last year, a national police spokesperson said, with a law change in 2017 that gave officers greater powers to use their weapons now under scrutiny.

There were three such killings in 2021 and two in 2020, according to a Reuters tally, which shows the majority of victims since 2017 were Black or of Arab origin. 

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