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Over 700 arrested across France in persisting protests amid claims of ebbing unrest

French police attack a protester during a protest rally against systemic racism and police brutality in France. (Photo by AFP)

French police has arrested over 700 protesters as a wave of protests continue to rock the European nation for the fifth consecutive night over the police shooting death of a teenager of African decent despite official claims of ebbing unrest. 

The French interior ministry declared on Sunday that their initial claim of 486 protester arrested overnight has now climbed to 719, but insisted that the declining number of arrests -- compared to the previous night’s 1,300 -- was an indication that things are calming down.

However, local media outlets widely reported that tensions remained high as French authorities deployed tens of thousands of police forces in the capital Paris and other major cities to quell the unrest.

Protesters ram car into mayor's residence

This is while the mayor of a town south of Paris declared that protesters rammed a car into his home, injuring his wife and one of his children.

Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun of the town of L'Hay-les-Roses wrote in a Twitter post that protesters “rammed a car” into his home before “setting a fire” while his family slept.

“My wife and one of my children were injured,” he added.

Last week’s death of Nahel M, an Arab boy of Algerian heritage killed by French police during a traffic check, sparked violent protests and nighttime clashes in Paris and other cities against systemic racism and police brutality.

Footage of the incident shows that one of the two police officers who had stopped Nahel’s car discharged his gun at the driver while he did not seem to face any immediate threat.

The officer is said to be facing investigations and placed in preliminary detention.

The successive nights of violence across France have prompted the officials to launch a crackdown, mobilizing some 40,000 police officers to patrol cities, and arresting thousands of protesters, according to the figures announced by the French interior ministry.

French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said in Paris alone, 5,000 security personnel were deployed. Officers were given powers to quell riots, make arrests, and “restore republican order.”

France’s President Emanuel Macron was forced to postpone his state visit to Germany to oversee the crackdown on protesters as the slain teen was being laid to rest.

Earlier, Macron had rushed back to Paris from an EU summit to take part in a crisis meeting.

Macron advised parents to keep youths inside their homes at night to avoid arrest and clashing with police.

On Friday, he blamed social media for fueling the protests saying a third of those arrested during the protests were “very young” and “intoxicated” by video games.

He urged social media platforms to take down “sensitive content” related to the protests and provide law enforcement with the identity of protesters who employ “social networks to call for disorder or to exacerbate violence.”

Iran issues travel advisory against visiting France

On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kana’ani called on the French police to exercise restraint in handling the nationwide protests.

“The French government is expected to put an end to the violent treatment of its people by respecting the principles of human dignity, freedom of expression, and the right of citizens to peaceful protests,” Kana’ani said.

In the meantime, Nahel’s family held a funeral procession and burial ceremony on Saturday for the killed teen at the local cemetery in Nanterre.

Reports from the event said the atmosphere was tense.

A separate commemoration ceremony was scheduled at the mosque in Nanterre and further funeral rites will then take place in the giant Mont Valerien cemetery in the area.

In 2005, the killings of two teenage boys hiding from police led to three weeks of protests and set off a state of emergency.

Nahel’s killing was the third fatal shooting by police during traffic stops in France in 2023. Last year 13 such shootings were recorded, three in 2021 and two in 2020.

Since 2017, most of the victims of such killings have been of black or Arab origin, backing up claims by rights groups of systemic racism within French law enforcement agencies.

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