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Thursday, February 29, 2024

France riots: Police killing of 17-year-old boy is catalyst for wanton destruction | World News

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It was past 2am when the fires and disorder of Nanterre came to our doorstep and lit up the sky, bringing devastation in its wake. This is a corner of France where anger and anarchy have taken a grip.

The middle of the night, but none of our team were asleep. It’s very hard to drift off when the tranquillity of night is so often punctuated by the sounds of fireworks and sirens, but then came different noises – the crackle of fire and the pops of small explosions.

The hotel where our team is staying overlooks the depot of an energy company. Parked there, protected by a tall wire fence, were a dozen vans next to a warehouse building. And now, through the night, an orange glow was getting ever bigger.

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Violent protests spread over teen killing

My colleague, the Europe news editor Sophie Garratt, was the first to hear the noise, looked out of her window and saw three people running away from the depot. Muffled words exchanged as they fled.

They had done what so many others did in Nanterre last night – lit a fire. We’d seen plenty of them that evening – bins dragged and set ablaze; roads blocked. Symbols of defiance.

But this was something very different. As we watched, the fire rapidly expanded. It consumed vehicle after vehicle. Pop went the tyres; bang went the fuel. Windows blown out. Red, orange, blue and green flames getting ever bigger.

Riots after a teenager shot dead by police in Paris suburb of  Nanterre
Image:
Pic: Sophie Garratt

We opened the window to see better what was happening, but the smoke was an acrid blend of molten fuel, rubber, metal, plastic and tarmacadam. Smell that for a few moments, and you want to close the window.

By now, the fire had turned into an inferno. In the corridor, some guests began to panic. “We’re getting out of here,” one man shouts through the open door. “This whole place is going to go up.”

Riots after a teenager shot dead by police in Paris suburb of  Nanterre
Image:
Pic: Sophie Garratt

A few minutes later, we see his car driving off, along with others.

As it turns out, he’s wrong. The fire service arrive. At first, it’s just one man, who surveys the scene and then returns with a hose and a second firefighter. They try to contain it, but it’s an uphill battle in the face of regular, unpredictable explosions as fuel tanks rupture.

But then more people arrive with more equipment. A cherry picker looms over us. And gradually, by about 4am, the battle is being won and the flames are dying down.

Read more: Mbappe speaks out after teen’s killing by police sparks Paris riots

Riots after a teenager shot dead by police in Paris suburb of  Nanterre
Image:
Pic: Sophie Garratt

What’s left behind is the smouldering wreckage of, I would guess, the best part of a million pound’s worth of vans and equipment. Who knows what damage has been done that we couldn’t see?

In some ways, they’re lucky. The warehouse itself is scorched, but still intact. The neighbouring buildings, including our hotel, didn’t catch light. But when the owner and employees come to look at the ashes and wreckage, I don’t imagine they’ll feel lucky.

This was wanton destruction, but it’s tied up with so many strands that you can’t simply write it off as vandalism.

Riots after a teenager shot dead by police in Paris suburb of  Nanterre
Image:
Pic: Sophie Garratt

In Nanterre, like other Paris suburbs and other French towns, there are plenty of people who feel marginalised, forgotten or discriminated against. Crime is high; literacy is low.

And when you get an event like the killing of 17-year-old Nahel, that becomes a catalyst.

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Clashes in France over teen’s death

Combine that with hot, dry evenings and you have the perfect ingredients for disaffected young people to take to the streets.

Nahel’s killing was, itself, rather like an act of arson. It started the fire of fury that has now engulfed this area for two nights in a row, along with other towns across France.

The question is, how long it will go on for? But, as we watched those flames devour so many things in such a short space of time, one thing was very obvious – conflagrations like this are much easier to start than they are to extinguish.



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