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Why are there riots in France?

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The shooting of teenager Nahel Merzouk has sparked days of protests and riots across the country.
Why are there riots in France

The shooting of teenager Nahel Merzouk by French police has sparked days of protests and riots across the country.

French leaders have condemned the shooting and the police officer responsible has been charged with voluntary homicide.

However, the government has denied suggestions of systemic racism among the French police force.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why are there riots in France?

On 27 June, 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk was fatally shot by police at a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

French police are authorised to shoot at traffic stops if they believe their safety is at risk. Police initially claimed Merzouk had driven into them, but video footage contradicted this claim.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the killing “unforgivable”, and French PM Élisabeth Borne said it “clearly” violated police rules.

The aftermath

In the days since the teen was killed, demonstrators across France have taken to the streets to protest. Unrest has led to store looting, car fires and damage to government buildings.

Merzouk’s family say they welcomed peaceful protests and want new laws to restrict police use of lethal force. However, they’ve called for an end to the violence. A relative told the BBC the riots and looting are “not for Nahel”.

Government condemns

Tens of thousands of police officers have been deployed across the country in response to the riots.

President Macron has called the violence an “unacceptable exploitation” of Merzouk’s death.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the Government’s “absolute priority” is to restore order.

Macron and Darmanin both claim many of the protesters are teens and have criticised parents for failing to keep them at home.

Police response

Some police unions in France are threatening to use violence to subdue protests, accusing the Government of a lack of support.

In a statement last week, a major police union attacked the French Government for sending mixed signals.

“Faced with these wild hordes, asking for calm is no longer enough, you have to impose it… we are at war.”

The union threatened to act beyond its legal powers to “restore the rule of law as quickly as possible”.

United Nations condemns

Last week, a UN human rights spokesperson expressed concern about “deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement”, calling on local authorities to ensure use of force by police “always respects the principles of legality [and] necessity”.

The French Government called the suggestion of racism “totally groundless”. However, French police have long faced accusations of bias towards racial minorities. A 2017 survey found young Black and Arab men were 20 times more likely to be stopped by police than the rest of the population.

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