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France riots ease after the police killing of teen sparks unrest

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The situation in France appeared to calm down on Monday after a weekend of violent riots and protests triggered by the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy by a police officer during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb.

The boy, identified only as Nahel, was of Algerian-Moroccan descent. He died from a single shot through his left arm and chest on Tuesday morning in Nanterre, west of Paris.

His death sparked outrage and anger among his family, friends, and residents in major cities in France. They accused the police of racism, brutality and impunity, and demanded justice for Nahel.

Since Tuesday night, rioters have torched cars, looted stores and targeted town halls and other properties across France, including the home of the mayor of a Paris suburb, which was attacked while his wife and children were asleep inside on Saturday.

Police responded with a massive deployment of 45,000 officers, tear gas and water cannons to quell the unrest. According to the interior ministry, more than 3,300 people have been arrested, over 1,000 buildings have been damaged and hundreds of officers have been injured in the clashes.

The grandmother of Nahel said on Sunday she wanted the nationwide rioting to end. “I don’t want any more violence. I don’t want any more hatred. I want peace,” she told reporters.

President Emmanuel Macron also condemned the shooting and called for calm and dialogue. He said he had ordered an investigation into the incident and promised to punish any wrongdoing by the police.

The officer who fired the lethal shot has been placed under formal investigation for voluntary homicide, a step that could lead to a trial. He told investigators he wanted to prevent another chase, fearing he or another person would be hurt.

The killing of Nahel has reignited longstanding complaints of police violence and systemic racism inside law enforcement agencies from rights groups and activists. They say that Black and Arab people are disproportionately targeted and harmed by the police, especially during traffic stops.

Nahel’s death was the third fatal shooting during traffic stops in France so far in 2023, down from a record 13 last year. The majority of victims of such shootings since 2017 were Black or of Arab origin.

France has experienced previous waves of protests over police conduct, particularly against minorities. In 2005, riots erupted after two teenagers died while fleeing police in a Paris suburb. In 2019, thousands marched against police brutality after the death of a young Black man in custody. In 2020, demonstrations were inspired by the global Black Lives Matter movement following the killing of George Floyd in the United States.

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