The French government has called for calm after dozens of youths clashed with authorities and torched property and cars in France’s western city of Nantes, following the death of a 22-year-old man who was shot by police during a vehicle stop.
About 200 police and soldiers were guarding public buildings on Wednesday after a shopping centre was set ablaze in Breil, a mainly immigrant area of housing estates. Bus shelters and several vehicles were wrecked.
"I’m appealing for absolute calm, as the rule of law will be completely respected," Nicole Belloubet, the French justice minister, told RTL radio on Wednesday.
As news of the 8.30pm shooting spread on Tuesday night, angry youths also took to the streets in neighbouring areas. Some carried bottles filled with petrol.
The dead man was named locally as Aboubacar Fofana, from the Paris suburb of Garges-lès-Gonesse.
He was accused of theft and his car was listed as a vehicle suspected of being used for drug dealing, according to a police report seen by Le Parisien newspaper. The report confirmed that an arrest warrant had been issued for him.
When stopped, he said he had no ID and claimed his name was Mamadou D., a man of the same age. “The name given by the driver is known, but the photograph of the individual on file did not match the name.”
Officers were then ordered to take the man to the police station to carry out further ID checks. But the man “reversed at very high speed”.
Police claimed he almost ran over two children playing behind the car and an officer, before hitting a parked vehicle. He continued “zig-zagging, still at very high speed,” and another officer took out his gun and fired a single shot. He was hit in the neck and declared dead on arrival at hospital.
However, a witness told French media that the car had tried to reverse but was stationary when the shot was fired.
Pierre Sennes, the Nantes chief prosecutor, said police were investigating “the facts and in what circumstances the police officer used his weapon.”
Police union officials said an arrest warrant had been issued for the dead man, describing him as a convicted criminal.
French police have often been accused of using excessive force in poorer areas, especially against people from ethnic minorities. The 2016 death of a young black man, Adama Traoré, near Paris, is still being investigated.
The deaths of young men while fleeing or resisting police have triggered riots in predominantly immigrant areas of France several times in recent decades.
Three weeks of nationwide rioting broke out in 2005 after the deaths of two youths who were electrocuted while hiding from police in an electrical substation.
A witness, who declined to be named, told Europe 1 radio that the police account was incorrect. “There was no policeman behind his car when he reversed. All he was trying to do was avoid being checked by the police.”
A resident, named as Guy, said: “You can’t just kill a man like that. The people who are down there aren’t talking about a policeman who is supposed to have been hit.”
Reporters from Europe 1 spoke to a man who said he had filmed what happened. According to another resident, Kamel, the video was posted on Facebook but removed.
Steven, 24, who lives in the area, said: “I saw everything burning. There were fires in dustbins and cars. They were smashing everything.”
Johanna Rolland, the mayor of Nantes, said the authorities “must determine quickly what happened tonight with the greatest clarity and transparency and total independence.” Ms Rolland, 39, a Socialist, sent her condolences to the dead man’s family.
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