France has dispatched its elite GIGN commandos to reinforce beleaguered police as the country braces for a fifth night of violence over the killing of Nahel Merzouk.
Some 45,000 police officers and Gendarmes were mobilised on Saturday evening, after hundreds of people gathered to bury the 17-year-old police shooting victim in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.
A total of 43 people were arrested in Marseille after violence between rioters and police broke out, according to the Bouches-du-Rhône police headquarters.
The Bouches-du-Rhône Police Prefecture said, “Since the beginning of the evening, all potentially violent groups in the city center have been systematically dispersed by the police and gendarmes, if necessary with the use of tear gas.
“The situation is under control.”
Officials also told the local media that 21 people had been arrested in Lyon and that 37 further arrests were made in Paris for people caught “carrying a weapon” following 375 searches. A total of 45 people were arrested in Paris and a heavy police presence has been seen along the Champs-Élysées.
The mayor of Lyon, Grégory Doucet, where dozens of police officers were injured on Friday night – including several by gunfire – called for urgent reinforcements, saying police in the city were “overwhelmed”.
Lyon, he said following a crisis meeting, “has been in the grip of riots of unprecedented intensity, damage and violence”.
The GIGN – France’s top hostage rescue unit, similar to the SAS – arrived in Marseille on Saturday evening, according to police in Bouches-du-Rhône, following a night of fierce clashes between police and protesters.
“The results of the night can be summed up in one word: apocalyptic,” The Telegraph reported that Rudy Manna, of the Bouches-du-Rhône police union, said of Friday night.
“We had scenes of guerrillas in the center of Marseille, the northern districts were also affected by looting, burning of vehicles and trash cans.”
Gerald Darmanin, the French interior minister, said “a lot of resources” were being sent to the two embattled cities, which have been home to some of the worst clashes since the unrest broke out on Tuesday.
As well as the elite counter-terror unit, armoured vehicles and helicopters were being sent to shore up security in Marseille.
Despite the violence, curfews have not been introduced in either of the two cities.
French police on Saturday said their officers were being “ambushed” by rioters.
More than 200 policemen have been injured and over 700 businesses ransacked or burnt down since the police shooting of Merzouk sparked nationwide unrest on Tuesday.
Police made 1,311 arrests overnight from Friday to Saturday – the most so far – but claimed the violence had been “lower in intensity” and with fewer cars and buildings set ablaze compared with previous nights.
Meanwhile, hundreds of mourners gathered in Nanterres for Merzouk’s funeral on Saturday afternoon.
The funeral passed off peacefully, although correspondents described a tense atmosphere and mourners described anger at what they said was endemic police racism.
Police initially claimed the officer opened fire because the vehicle was driving towards them as if to hit them.
But a social media video of the incident, which news agencies have confirmed, shows an officer pointing a gun through the stationary car window before opening fire as it drove away.