(CN) — France on Monday cautiously hoped for calmer days ahead after a weekend of riots rattled the country with an attack on a mayor's house outside Paris, the death of a firefighter battling a car fire, and hundreds of stores and public buildings smashed.
France has already seen six nights of violence in response to the police killing of Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old food delivery driver of Algerian-Moroccan roots in a Paris suburb, last Tuesday morning.
But the violence may be ebbing with large-scale deployments of police and armored vehicles, hundreds of arrests, growing public fury at what many French see as wanton misbehavior rather than legitimate anger and protest, and calls for calm from Merzouk's grandmother and mother. Merzouk's body was laid to rest Saturday at a mosque in Nanterre.
“The people who are breaking things right now, I tell them: stop it,” the French broadcaster BFMTV quoted his grandmother, Nadia, as saying Sunday in a plea to halt the destruction of schools, buses and other public infrastructure. “They used Nahel as an excuse.”
The toll from the unrest has been devastating and reached a new dangerous point at around 1:30 a.m. Sunday when rioters attacked the home of a center-right mayor in L'Haÿ-les-Roses, a southern suburb of Paris.
Attackers used a car to ram through the home's gates before setting the vehicle on fire and letting the blaze spread to the house, Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said in a statement.
Jeanbrun alleges that rioters attacked his wife and children, aged 5 and 7, with firework rockets when they tried to flee. One of the children was hurt, and Melanie Nowak, his wife, broke her leg. The mayor was not at home because he was monitoring the riots. Authorities said they were investigating the attack as attempted murder.
Jeanbrun called it “a murder attempt of unspeakable cowardice.”
“A line has been crossed,” he said. “If my priority today is to take care of my family, my determination to protect and serve the Republic is greater than before.”
The attack shocked France and led to a quieter night of unrest. By Monday, staff at town halls across the country came out in support of the L'Haÿ-les-Roses mayor and decried the rioters and violence.
Also Monday, France's interior ministry reported that a 24-year-old firefighter was killed while battling a car set on fire in an underground parking garage in a Paris suburb overnight. It remained unclear if the car had been set on fire by rioters, but hundreds of vehicles have been torched since protests erupted last Tuesday.
The past six days have been dizzying for France and President Emmanuel Macron, who has struggled to appear both empathetic toward the complaints of racism and inequality expressed by France's large Muslim population while also supportive of France's strained police forces and denouncing the violence.
Macron canceled a trip to Germany on Monday as his government sought to quell the unrest and take stock of the millions of dollars in damage. He was expected to hold another crisis meeting soon.
Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, said that about 3,200 people have been arrested since the start of the riots and that about 60% of those arrested had no criminal record. The average age of those detained is 17, according to French media reports.
Most major cities — Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Toulouse, Nice, Bordeaux, Nantes, Strasbourg and Lille — have seen destruction of public buildings, large-scale looting and street clashes as about 45,000 police officers were mobilized across the country. Protests have also broken out in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, and in Switzerland.
The riots are sparking difficult debates in France about the country's colonial past, racism, religious intolerance, police brutality, immigration, inequality and crime. France is home to the European Union's largest Muslim population, but many French Muslims complain of discrimination and lack of opportunity. Large Muslim communities live in the outskirts of French cities, places known as the banlieues.