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Night of fires, looting in Lille as protests sweep France

#Night #fires #looting #Lille #protests #sweep #France

A burned district office, another pelted with stones, “lots of looting”: in Lille, in the north of France, a game of cat and mouse played out into the wee hours of Friday morning between authorities and protesters.

As in other French cities, the metropolis of one and a half million near the Belgian border has been convulsed by at-times violent demonstrations since Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old named Nahel in Nanterre, near Paris.

The incident revived longstanding grievances about policing and racial profiling in France’s multiethnic suburbs, but some in Lille suggested the backlash had gone too far, even as they denounced the shooting.

In the district of Wazemmes, firefighters worked until after midnight to extinguish a blaze that damaged the ground floor and blackened the facade of the local district hall.

“Burning a district hall is useless,” said 22-year-old bus driver Sofiane, standing in front of the charred edifice as fireworks sounded in the distance.

“The cop who did this did not have to do it”, he said of the officer who shot Nahel, “but attacking public places, what does it serve?”

District councillor Brice Lauret, who had rushed to the scene, said the violence was “unacceptable”.

“I can understand anger, but not violence,” he added.

In another area, Fives, the district hall was targeted with stones, its windows broken out, according to Lille city hall, while an elementary school in the neighbourhood of Moulins was badly damaged by flames.

There was also “a lot of looting” of shops and supermarkets, it added, saying “very mobile small groups, composed of very young” individuals were striking “everywhere”.

– ‘Today they are shooting’ –

The city had beefed up its security presence on Thursday, deploying elite RAID units, a helicopter and police drones after violence broke out the previous night, though the measures appeared to have little deterrent effect.

The first incidents started around 9:00 pm (1900 GMT), in the sector of the central police station, where authorities had prohibited gatherings after calls for a rally went out on social media.

Mobile and scattered, small groups of young people set fire to trash cans and cars on a main artery. Some broke the windows of a supermarket, later emerging with bottles of soda.

RAID officers, aboard an ATV and in an armoured vehicle, intervened several times, brandishing projectile launchers.

“They are not showing any mercy; today they are shooting,” commented one passerby who, like many interviewed by AFP, declined to identify himself.

– From blaze to blaze –

Tensions were also high in the nearby municipality of Roubaix, one of the poorest in France, where firefighters dashed from blaze to blaze throughout the night.

Next to a theatre with broken-out windows, barricades burned as fireworks crisscrossed the sky. Near the train station, a hotel caught fire, sending its dozen or so residents fleeing into the streets.

As firefighters battled the blaze, another was already starting nearby in a large office building, residents said.

“In two days, they did what the Yellow Vests did in two years,” said one pedestrian, referring to the spontaneous and sometimes violent anti-government protest movement that broke out in 2018.

Not far away, a witness recounted having seen a group of about 50 people set fire to a brokerage company’s office.

A social centre in the city was also set on fire, according to Amine Elbahi, who ran unsuccessfully in the area in the last legislative elections.

“The police, they feel free to do anything. They killed an innocent youth, they have to stop,” said one 16-year-old passerby back in Lille.

Another man in his 20s appeared to agree: “Nahel’s death is too serious, it’s unjustified.” 

“But the reaction is bad; degrading public services is useless,” he added. “It’s our money that will fix all this.”

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#Night #fires #looting #Lille #protests #sweep #France

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