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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mayors are targeted in fifth night of protests across France

Riot police secured an area near the Arc de Triomphe on Saturday night in Paris.

By Emma Bubola and Vivek Shankar

The mayor of a suburb of Paris said Sunday that protesters had rammed a car into his home and then set the vehicle on fire, injuring his wife and one of his children, as violent demonstrations across France over the police killing of a 17-year-old stretched into a fifth night.

“Last night, a milestone was reached in terms of horror and ignominy,” the mayor, Vincent Jeanbrun, of L’Haÿ-les-Roses, a town to the south of the capital, said in a statement on Twitter.

In a separate attack, police said on Twitter that rioters had tried to set fire to a car belonging to another mayor, in the town of La Riche, near the city of Tours, southwest of Paris.

Across the rest of France, Saturday evening had generally been calmer than recent nights, during which hundreds of protests have taken place nationwide. But still, local news media reported rioting, looting and clashes in Marseille, France’s second-largest city, and hundreds more people were arrested.

Tensions remained high Sunday after the funeral the day before for the 17-year-old, named publicly only as Nahel Merzouk, of Algerian and Moroccan descent, who was fatally shot Tuesday during a traffic stop in Nanterre, a Paris suburb. Many protesters said they saw themselves in the victim, connecting his fate with their own experiences of neglect and racial discrimination in France’s poorer urban suburbs.

Merzouk’s grandmother, who was also identified by only her first name, Nadia, spoke to the French news channel BFMTV on Sunday and asked the rioters to stand down.

“People who are breaking things, I tell them, ‘Stop,’” she said, adding that they should refrain from smashing shop windows or targeting schools and buses.

“It’s moms who take buses,” she said.

In L’Haÿ-les-Roses, Jeanbrun said that he had been spending the night in the town hall, as he had been for the previous three nights, when a car was driven at his house at 1:30 a.m. while his wife and children were sleeping inside. His wife and one of his children were injured as they tried to run away, he said.

Stéphane Hardouin, the public prosecutor in Créteil, a town nearby, said that initial indications were that the car had crashed into the house with the intention of setting the building on fire, and he noted that some accelerant had been found in a bottle.

Hardouin said that a small wall had stopped the car before it reached the house’s veranda, and that only the front gate and the family’s car had been affected. Hearing the noise and seeing flames, the mayor’s wife and his children, ages 5 and 7, tried to flee through the back garden, but his wife injured herself, apparently breaking her shin, Hardouin added.

The French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, called the attack “cowardly and terrible,” and said in a post on Twitter that an attempted-murder investigation had been opened. “The perpetrators of these facts will answer for their heinous acts,” he wrote.

French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne traveled to L’Haÿ-les-Roses to express her support for the mayor, calling the attack unacceptable. She said that the government would move to impose harsher punishments on those who attack local representatives.

Borne said that attacks such as those against the town’s mayor were “particularly shocking.”

The office of President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a statement Sunday that he would hold a meeting at the Élysée Palace on Sunday evening with the prime minister, the interior minister and the justice minister to assess the situation across the country. On Saturday, Macron postponed a state visit to Germany as his government focused on the riots at home.

While the number of police officers deployed across the country was not increased, more were sent overnight to quell protests in Grenoble, Lyon and Marseille, according to Darmanin.

In a statement on Twitter early Sunday, the Interior Ministry said that 719 people were arrested overnight and that 45 police officers had been injured. On Friday night, more than 1,300 were arrested.

In a Twitter post, Darmanin added that 45,000 police officers had been deployed across the country on Saturday evening, a number similar to the night before.

“A calmer night,” he wrote on Twitter, “thanks to the resolute action of the police.”

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