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Grandmother of French teen shot dead by police officer pleads with rioters to stop the violence

KIFI

By CARA ANNA, NICOLAS GARRIGA and SYLVIE CORBET
Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — The grandmother of the French teenager shot dead by police during a traffic stop pleaded Sunday for rioters to stop after five nights of unrest, while authorities expressed outrage at an attack on a suburban mayor’s home that injured family members.

The grandmother of 17-year-old Nahel, identified only as Nadia, said in a telephone interview with French news broadcaster BFM TV, “Don’t break windows, buses … schools. We want to calm things down.”

She said she was angry at the officer who killed her grandson but not at the police in general and expressed faith in the justice system as France faces its worst social upheaval in years. Nahel, whose full name hasn’t been disclosed, was buried on Saturday.

The violence appeared to be lessening. Still, the office of Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 45,000 police officers would again be deployed in the streets to counter anger over discrimination against people who trace their roots to former French colonies and live in low-income neighborhoods. Nahel is of Algerian descent and was shot in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

President Emmanuel Macron held a special security meeting Sunday night and plans to meet Monday with the heads of both houses of parliament and Tuesday with the mayors of 220 towns and cities affected by the protests, said a participant in the meeting, who spoke anonymously in line with French government practices. Macron also wants to start a detailed, longer-term assessment of the reasons that led to the unrest, the official said.

Highlighting the seriousness of the rioting, Macron delayed what would have been the first state visit to Germany by a French president in 23 years, which had been scheduled to start Sunday evening.

The interior ministry said police made 78 arrests nationwide Sunday, French media reported, down significantly from 719 arrests the day before. More than 3,000 people have been detained overall following a mass security deployment. Hundreds of police and firefighters have been injured in the violence, although authorities haven’t said how many protesters have been hurt.

French authorities were appalled on Sunday after a burning car struck the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of L’Hay-les-Roses. Several police stations and town halls have been targeted by fires or vandalism in recent days, but such a personal attack on a mayor’s home is unusual.

Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife and one of his children were injured in the 1:30 a.m. attack while they slept and he was in the town hall monitoring the violence. Jeanbrun, of the conservative opposition Republicans party, said the attack represented a new stage of “horror and ignominy” in the unrest.

Regional prosecutor Stephane Hardouin opened an investigation into attempted murder, telling French television that a preliminary investigation suggests the car was meant to ram the house and set it ablaze. He said a flame accelerant was found in a bottle in the car.

Macron has blamed social media for fueling violence. France’s justice minister has warned that young people who share calls for violence on Snapchat or other apps could face prosecution.

The mass police deployment has been welcomed by some frightened residents of targeted neighborhoods, but it has further frustrated those who see police behavior as the core of the crisis.

On a public square in Nanterre, a young man of Senegalese descent said France would learn little from the latest unrest. Faiez Njai said of police: “They’re playing on our fears, saying that ‘If you don’t listen to us,’” — and then he pointed a finger at his temple and fired.

Video of the killing showed two officers at the window of the car, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager pulled forward, the officer fired once through the windshield. The officer accused of killing Nahel was given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide.

Thirteen people who didn’t comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police last year, and three this year, prompting demands for more accountability.

“Nahel M.’s death first reflects the rules and practices for how police officers use weapons during roadside checks and, more broadly, the flawed relations between the police and young people from working-class neighborhoods,” the newspaper Le Monde said in an editorial on Saturday.

Amid the unrest, a World War II monument in Nanterre commemorating Holocaust victims and members of the French Resistance was vandalized on the sidelines of a silent march Thursday to pay tribute to Nahel. The slogans included “Don’t forgive or forget” and “Police, rapists, assassins.” The European Jewish Congress denounced the vandalism as a “shameful act of disrespect for the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.”

Life in some parts of France went on as usual. In the capital, tourists thronged to the Eiffel Tower, where workers set up a clock counting down to next year’s Paris Olympics. A short walk from Nanterre, a shopping mall bustled Sunday with customers from all walks of life. But in the empty square where Nahel was shot, someone had painted “The police kill” on a bench.

At the foot of a bridge near the Eiffel Tower where generations of couples have attached padlocks to symbolize lasting love, a Senegalese man selling cheap locks and keys shook his head when asked if Nahel’s killing and the ensuing violence would change anything.

“I doubt it,” he said, giving only his first name, Demba, for fear of retaliation. “The discrimination is too profound.”

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Anna reported from Nanterre. Jade le Deley in Clichy-sous-Bois, France; Angela Charlton in Paris; Jocelyn Noveck in New York; and Helena Alves in Paris contributed.

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