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France protests: Macron asks police to remain on high alert

France's President Emmanuel Macron. (File photo by AFP)

France's President Emmanuel Macron has asked police to remain on high alert as he promised speedy reconstruction at a meeting with mayors of 250 cities hit by a massive wave of angry protests.

In the past week, mass protests across the country over the police killing of an Arab youth rocked French cities.

The death of Nahel M, 17, renewed old grievances and complaints among minority groups in French society regarding systemic racism and frequent police brutality in the country. 

In the meeting with the 250 mayors, Macron announced “emergency legislation” to speed up the reconstruction of public infrastructure vandalized in the protests. 

“I’ll still be very cautious over the coming days and weeks, but the peak we experienced in the first nights [of the riots] is over, and now it’s the lasting, republican order we all want … and that’s the absolute priority,” he told French mayors, according to BFMTV.

Macron made a surprise visit to police stations in the capital Paris on Monday evening, vowing to remain supportive of the law enforcement agencies personnel.

Le Parisien reported the French president telling the officers to take heed on July 13 and 14 — the eve and day of France’s national holiday — as the situation might deteriorate on those days.

“I don’t think it’s behind us. We’ll see what happens on July 13 and 14, and in the months to come,” he was quoted as saying, asking the officers to remain on high alert.

To quell the unrest, 45,000 police and security forces were deployed across the country.

Since Friday, there have been around 4,000 arrests, which included more than 1,200 minors, according to a figure released by the justice ministry.

Recent protests have been a major source of concern for Macron, who had been hoping to press on with pledges for his second term after seeing off months of protests triggered by his proposed retirement age hike.

In the meantime, French businesses remained in shock over the extent of the damages during the seven nights of protests which left countless shops and other outlets vandalized.

"They destroyed everything," said Alexandre Manchon who works in a tobacco store in the southern city of Marseille which has seen some of the worst looting.

"None of this is our doing, we are just working people who get up at five in the morning so we can feed our children and families," he told AFP.

French employers' organizations called on the government to create an emergency fund to support "those who lost everything" in the protests.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday the government may give tax exemptions and social security payments to businesses targeted in the protests.

MEDEF employers’ lobby estimated the damage to French businesses at more than €1 billion ($1.1 billion), with 200 businesses looted, and 300 bank branches and 250 tobacco stores destroyed.

The MEDEF estimate covered businesses alone and does not include the damage done to schools, town halls, or community centers during the recent unrest.

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