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Public Transportation Frozen, All Options Now on the Table as Violent Chaos Engulfs France

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France is on edge as the nation grapples with three consecutive nights of riots sparked by the fatal shooting of a teenager by a police officer during a routine traffic stop in which the teen refused to comply.

The country is now facing a critical juncture, as President Emmanuel Macron confronts one of the most significant challenges to his leadership since the Yellow Vest protests that erupted in 2018.

According to a report from Reuters, the unrest has rapidly spread throughout the nation, engulfing cities like Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, and Lille, in addition to Paris.

The incident, caught on video, involves the death of Nahel M., a 17-year-old of Algerian and Moroccan descent in the Nanterre suburb. Thus far, the victim’s full last name has not been disclosed.

The fatal incident, which took place on Tuesday, has reignited deep-seated grievances within impoverished, racially diverse urban communities of France, who have long complained about police violence and unfair treatment. The controversy also underlines the tension between the French and recently arrived Islamic migrants, which has boiled over into violence at times.

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Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has sent a letter to firefighters and police officers, urging them to exert their utmost efforts during these crucial hours to restore order. Local authorities have been instructed to suspend bus and tram services nationwide starting at 9 p.m. local time as part of the strategy to quell the unrest.

These restrictive new mandates were put into effect Friday.

The government has emphasized that all options will be considered to put an end to the violence. With over 40,000 police officers deployed, the authorities have reported more than 200 injuries among officers and 875 arrests made overnight until Friday. The chaos has resulted in the destruction of buildings, torched vehicles, and rampant looting.

While the worst of the violence has so far been confined to suburban areas, any indication of its spread into the heart of France’s major cities would signify a significant escalation of the crisis.

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Reuters also noted the rise in looting, including incidents at an Apple store in Strasbourg and several Casino supermarkets. In central Paris, at the Chatelet Les Halles shopping mall, a Nike shoe store was broken into, and arrests were made after vandalism on the adjacent Rue de Rivoli shopping street.

Planned events, such as concerts at the Stade de France, have been canceled. The organizers of the Tour de France have expressed their willingness to adapt to any situation as the race enters France after starting in Bilbao, Spain.

In Marseille, the country’s second-largest city, authorities have banned scheduled demonstrations for Friday and urged restaurants to close outdoor areas early. Public transport services there will cease operations starting at 7 p.m.

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President Macron has cut short his participation in a European Union summit in Brussels to attend a second cabinet crisis meeting within two days. He has called on social media platforms to remove “the most sensitive” footage of the riots and identify users inciting violence.

Macron has strongly denied the existence of systemic racism within law enforcement, but those arguments appear to be falling on deaf ears as chaos tightens its grip on France.

Social media is awash with videos depicting urban landscapes engulfed in flames. Incidents of arson have been reported, including a tram set ablaze in Lyon and a depot in Aubervilliers where 12 buses were completely gutted.

Amid the unrest, several employees of power distribution firm Enedis were injured by projectiles, and the interior ministry reported attacks on 79 police stations, as well as 119 public buildings, including 34 town halls and 28 schools.

The United Nations rights office in Geneva emphasized the significance of peaceful assembly and called on French authorities to ensure that police use of force is non-discriminatory, per Reuters.

The police officer responsible for the fatal shooting is currently in custody, facing formal investigation for voluntary homicide.

His lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, defended his client, claiming that the officer had initially aimed at the driver’s leg but unintentionally fired towards the chest due to being bumped. Lienard emphasized, “It is clear that the officer did not intend to kill the driver.”

As the international community watches, Western governments have cautioned their citizens to exercise caution when visiting France.

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