Fiery protests grip France for 3rd night over deadly police shooting of a teenager

Fiery protests grip France for 3rd night over deadly police shooting of a teenager
Fireworks explode as policemen stand by during protests in Roubaix, northern France on June 30, 2023, three days after a teenager was shot dead during a police traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre (AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2023

Fiery protests grip France for 3rd night over deadly police shooting of a teenager

Fiery protests grip France for 3rd night over deadly police shooting of a teenager
  • The teen was shot and killed by police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Wednesday
  • Fiery protests that continued Friday morning were third consecutive night of protests

NANTERRE: French protesters erected barricades, lit fires and shot fireworks at police in the streets of some French cities early Friday morning as tensions mounted over the deadly police shooting of a 17-year-old that has shocked the nation.

Armored police vehicles rammed through the charred remains of cars that had been flipped and set ablaze in the northwestern Paris suburb of Nanterre, where a police officer shot the teen who is only being identified by his first name,

Nahel. On the other side of Paris, protesters lit a fire at the city hall of the suburb of Clichy-Sous-Bois.

In the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, police sought to disperse violent groups in the city center, regional authorities said.

Tens of thousands of police officers have been deployed to quell the protests, which have gripped the country three nights in a row. On Thursday, 100 people had been arrested by midnight, according to a national police spokesperson. The number was expected to rise as arrests underway were being tallied.

The police officer accused of pulling the trigger Tuesday was handed a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide after prosecutor Pascal Prache said his initial investigation led him to conclude “the conditions for the legal use of the weapon were not met.”

The detained police officer’s lawyer, speaking on French TV channel BFMTV, said the officer was sorry and “devastated.” The officer did what he thought was necessary in the moment, attorney Laurent-Franck Lienard told the news outlet.

“He doesn’t get up in the morning to kill people,” Lienard said of the officer, whose name has not been released. “He really didn’t want to kill. But now he must defend himself, as he’s the one who’s detained and sleeping in prison.”

Tensions started to rise in Nanterre following a peaceful march Thursday afternoon in honor of Nahel, with smoke billowing from cars and garbage bins set ablaze despite government appeals for calm and vows that order would be restored.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the number of officers in the streets would reach 40,000, with 5,000 deployed in the Paris region alone.

“The professionals of disorder must go home,” Darmanin said. While there’s no need yet to declare a state of emergency — a measure taken to quell weeks of rioting in 2005 — he added: “The state’s response will be extremely firm.”

Tensions had started to rise throughout Thursday.

In the usually tranquil Pyrenees town of Pau in southwestern France, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a new police office, national police said. Vehicles were set on fire in Toulouse and a tramway train was torched in a suburb of Lyon, police said. Paris police said its officers made 40 arrests, some on the margins of the largely peaceful memorial march for the teen and others elsewhere.

Bus and tram services in the Paris area shut down before sunset as a precaution to safeguard transportation workers and passengers.

The town of Clamart, home to 54,000 people in the French capital’s southwest suburbs, said it was taking the extraordinary step of imposing an overnight curfew through Monday, citing “the risk of new public order disturbances.” The mayor of Neuilly-sur-Marne announced a similar curfew in that town in the eastern suburbs.

The unrest extended even to Brussels, the EU administrative home and Belgian capital city, where about a dozen people were detained during scuffles related to the shooting in France. Police spokeswoman Ilse Van de Keere said that several fires were brought under control and that at least one car was burned.

The shooting captured on video shocked France and stirred up long-simmering tensions between police and young people in housing projects and other disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The teenager’s family and their lawyers haven’t said the police shooting was race-related and they didn’t release his surname or details about him.

Still, anti-racism activists renewed their complaints about police behavior.

“We have to go beyond saying that things need to calm down,” said Dominique Sopo, head of the campaign group SOS Racisme. “The issue here is how do we make it so that we have a police force that when they see Blacks and Arabs, don’t tend to shout at them, use racist terms against them and in some cases, shoot them in the head.”

Prache, the Nanterre prosecutor, said officers tried to stop Nahel because he looked so young and was driving a Mercedes with Polish license plates in a bus lane. He allegedly ran a red light to avoid being stopped then got stuck in traffic.

Both officers involved said they drew their guns to prevent him from fleeing.

The officer who fired a single shot said he feared he and his colleague or someone else could be hit by the car, according to Prache. The officers said they felt “threatened” as the car drove off.

He said two magistrates are leading the investigation, as is common in France. Preliminary charges mean investigating judges strongly suspect wrongdoing but need to investigate more before sending the case to trial.

On Wednesday night, as violence raged in the streets for a second night, protesters shot fireworks and hurled stones at police in Nanterre, who fired repeated volleys of tear gas.

As demonstrations spread to other towns, police and firefighters struggled to contain protesters and extinguish blazes. Schools, police stations, town halls and other public buildings were damaged from Toulouse in the south to Lille in the north, with most of the damage in the Paris suburbs, according to a national police spokesperson.

Fire damaged the town hall in the Paris suburb of L’Ile-Saint-Denis, not far from the country’s national stadium and the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Darmanin said 170 officers had been injured in the unrest but none of the injuries was life-threatening. The number of civilians injured was not immediately released.

The scenes in France’s suburbs echoed 2005, when the deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traoré and 17-year-old Zyed Benna led to three weeks of riots, exposing anger and resentment in neglected, crime-ridden suburban housing projects. The two boys were electrocuted after hiding from police in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.

French President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency security meeting Thursday about the violence.

“These acts are totally unjustifiable,” Macron said at the beginning of the meeting, which aimed at securing hot spots and planning for the coming days “so full peace can return.”

Deadly use of firearms is less common in France than in the United States, though several people have died or sustained injuries at the hands of French police in recent years, prompting demands for more accountability. France also saw protests against racial profiling and other injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.

A police spokesperson said 13 people who didn’t comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by police last year. This year, three people, including Nahel, have died in similar circumstances.

’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks

’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks
Updated 25 June 2024

’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks

’Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks
  • The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange

LONDON: Julian Assange’s wife Stella on Tuesday thanked campaigners for their support as the WikiLeaks founder was released after five years in British custody.
“Julian is free!!!!” she wrote on the social media platform X following confirmation that he had left Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London.
“Words cannot express our immense gratitude” to everyone who had backed the global push for his release, she added.
Stella Assange met the Australian publisher while he was holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges that were later dropped.

A filing from the U.S. Department of Justice to the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands describes a plea deal regarding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in this image obtained by Reuters on June 24, 2024. (REUTERS)

Assange, accused of divulging US military secrets related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had been due back in court in London next month after winning an appeal against extradition.
But WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Julian Assange is free. He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of June 24, after having spent 1,901 days there.
“He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.”
The media freedom group said sustained campaigning, from grassroots supporters to political leaders and the United Nations, “created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice,” leading to a deal.
The organization said the deal “has not yet been formally finalized.”
Assange was initially detained for skipping bail in relation to the Swedish case and held in custody while the US extradition request wound its way through court.
He will now be reunited with his wife, whom he married at a ceremony in the prison, and their two young children, it added.
“WikiLeaks published ground-breaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” the statement read.
“As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know.
“As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”


Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike

Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike
Updated 25 June 2024

Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike

Kenya youth protesters gear up for nationwide strike

NAIROBI: Kenya braced for a nationwide strike Tuesday in response to a call by youth protesters for a countrywide shutdown, as opposition to the government’s proposed tax hikes gathers momentum.
The mainly Gen-Z-led demonstrations have taken President William Ruto’s government by surprise, with the Kenyan leader saying over the weekend that he was ready to speak with the protesters.
Discontent over the already high cost of living spiralled into nationwide rallies last week, sparked by the Ruto administration’s proposed tax hikes in the annual finance bill, which parliament must vote on by June 30.
The protests were mostly peaceful, as Ruto noted Sunday in his first public comments on the demonstrations. But the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) watchdog and rights groups said that two people had died following Thursday’s rallies.
Protest organizers called for the police to be held accountable and reiterated their demands for the finance bill to be scrapped in its entirety.
“We’re past the talking stage and won’t be silenced. We demand an end to police violence, respect for our constitutional rights, and the freedom to speak up without fear of arrest or harm,” Hanifa Adan told AFP Sunday.
Several organizations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said at least 200 people were wounded in the protests in Nairobi.
“The country stands at a crossroads,” Amnesty’s Kenya chapter said in a statement Monday.
“Despite mass arrests and injuries, the protests have continued to grow, emphasising the public’s widespread discontent.”
Amnesty added that the movement leaves government and police at a “critical juncture, where the escalation of force could lead to more fatalities and legal repercussions.”
Rights watchdogs have accused the authorities of abducting protesters in violation of the law.
“These abductions are intended to intimidate protesters planning to attend future peaceful demonstrations aimed at pressuring MPs to reject the bill,” the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) said Monday.
“These abductions, mostly occurring at night, are conducted by police officers in civilian clothes and unmarked cars,” KHRC added, calling for the “unconditional release of all abductees.”
The police have not responded to requests from AFP for comment on the allegations.
In addition to a strong social media campaign and street rallies, the protesters have deployed unconventional tactics, including asking bars to stop playing music at midnight on the weekend as partygoers burst into chants saying: “Ruto must go” and “Reject finance bill.”
Small numbers of Kenyans also protested at the weekend at several embassies abroad, including in Washington and Paris, according to TV images, organizers and social media.
The protests have also drawn support from some Anglican and Catholic church leaders.
During Sunday mass, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops chairman Archbishop Maurice Muhatia urged the government to take the matter seriously, “and not be in denial.”
The cash-strapped government agreed last week to roll back several tax increases.
But Ruto’s administration still intends to raise some taxes, saying they are necessary for filling the state coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.
Kenya has a huge debt mountain whose servicing costs have ballooned because of a fall in the value of the local currency over the last two years, making interest payments on foreign-currency loans more expensive.
The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with well-paid jobs remaining out of reach for many young people.
After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership and financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a budget shortfall of 200 billion shillings ($1.56 billion).
The government now intends to target an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation.
Kenya has one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but a third of its 52 million people live in poverty.

Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears

Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears
Updated 25 June 2024

Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears

Former Portuguese PM ‘optimistic’ as EU Council top job decision nears

LISBON: Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, a front-runner to become the next president of the European Council, said on Monday he was optimistic ahead of the bloc’s summit this week during which a decision on the top job is expected to be made.

Costa, 62, stepped down as Portugal’s Socialist premier last November over an investigation into alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of several large investment projects.

He has denied wrongdoing, was never charged with a crime and is the favorite to succeed Belgium’s Charles Michel as the person who chairs summits of the 27 EU national leaders at which the bloc’s political agenda is set.

“I hope the European Council quickly reaches a decision and approves the names it has to approve and rejects the names it has to reject,” Costa told reporters.

Last week, EU leaders ended a discussion on who should take the bloc’s top jobs for the next five years without agreement, aiming instead for a decision at a summit taking place later this week on June 27-28.

Asked whether he was feeling positive as the summit neared, Costa, who governed Portugal for eight years from the end of 2015, said he was “always optimistic.”

Portugal’s center-right government, which ascended to power in March after a general election, said that Costa, whose ambition for a top European position has been an open secret for years, has its “unequivocal support.”

Prime Minister Luis Montenegro said Costa’s nomination would meet all requirements. Costa also has the blessing of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and is one of the center-left candidates who generates the least opposition from the far-right.

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm
Updated 25 June 2024

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

CANBERRA: A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza has spread to an eighth poultry farm near Melbourne, the government of Australia’s Victoria state said on Tuesday, taking the total number of infected facilities in the country to 10.

Australia is dealing with three parallel outbreaks of bird flu, two near Melbourne and one near Sydney. Each involves a different strain of the virus, none of which is the H5N1 type that has spread through bird and mammal populations and even to humans around the world.

Victorian authorities said the new infection was within a quarantine zone already set up around affected farms and was therefore not unexpected.

The flu has mostly hit egg farms. Around 1.5 million birds have been or will be killed to control the spread of the virus. There is so far no shortage of eggs in stores.

Bird flu spreads to farmed animals from wild birds. The 2024 infections are the tenth outbreak in Australia since 1976. Each was contained and eradicated, according to the government.

Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer

Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer
Updated 25 June 2024

Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer

Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer
  • “This senseless violence just has to stop,” said Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, who called it a blessing that no one died while also asking for help in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals

WASHINGTON: The first weekend of summer brought a tragic yet familiar pattern for American cities wracked by gun violence as mass shootings left dozens dead or wounded at a party in Alabama, an entertainment district in Ohio and a grocery store in Arkansas.
It was the second straight weekend that saw an outbreak of mass shootings across the US, prompting mayors in places marred by the violence to plead for help.
In Michigan, a deputy was fatally shot while pursuing a suspected stolen vehicle in what the county sheriff described as an ambush. A Philadelphia police officer was critically wounded Saturday after pulling over a car with four people.
Police in Montgomery, Alabama, said hundreds of rounds were fired at a crowded party early Sunday, leaving nine people wounded. Interim Police Chief John Hall said investigators recovered more than 350 different spent shell casings.
“This senseless violence just has to stop,” said Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, who called it a blessing that no one died while also asking for help in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.
One reason for so many shootings with multiple victims is the increased use of modified guns that can spray hundreds of shots, said Jillian Snider, a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“That’s why you’re seeing more victims that are not even involved in the initial confrontation,” she said.
Gunfire broke out early Sunday on the main street of a popular restaurant and entertainment district near downtown Columbus, Ohio.
Ten people were injured, one in critical condition, leading the city’s mayor to call for more action from state and federal governments to keep guns off the streets and for parents to watch their children. Mayor Andrew Ginther said the gun violence “is outrageous, it’s unacceptable, and it must stop.”
FBI statistics show overall violent crime in the US has dropped after a pandemic-era spike but it might not feel that way to most people in the wake of these recent shootings, said University of Miami criminologist Alex Piquero.
Summertime always brings a rise in violence because school is out, there are more social gatherings and warmer temperatures can cause tempers to flare, he said. “That creates that kind of opportune structure for violence to occur,” Piquero said.
Several of the shootings this past weekend happened at large parties. Police in Dayton, Ohio, said a 22-year-old woman was killed and six people were injured early Monday, after a drive-by shooting at a vacant house where a big crowd had gathered.
Six people were wounded early Sunday at a park in Rochester, New York, after police said at least one person started shooting into a crowd. Elsewhere early Sunday, one man was killed and five others were wounded early in a downtown St. Louis shooting that police believe began when a fight broke out between several women and men stepped in with firearms.
The weekend of mass shootings began Friday in the small city of Fordyce, Arkansas, where four people were killed and another 11 injured — including the alleged gunman. The gunfire sent shoppers and store employees ducking for cover. Among those killed was a 23-year-old new mom.