Waves of riots and looting across France have been met by threats of revolt by leading police unions unless the government takes drastic measures to restore order, with the unions announcing: “the police are in combat because we are at war. Tomorrow we will enter resistance and the government should be aware of this.” Approximately 45,000 police have been deployed and several thousands arrests made. Riots were triggered by a fatal police shooting of African origin teenager Nahel M. during a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, which following a very long history of police violence against African minorities sparked outrage in minority communities across the country. The popular perceptions of riots were summarised by a young man calling for justice for Nahel quoted by the BBC as follows: “Police violence happens every day, especially if you’re Arab or black.” Some of the latest videos show rioters firing Kalashnikov-pattern rifles and fully-automatic assault rifle into the air in Paris and the southern city of Lyon, following reports that gun stores were looted. A protestor in Lille was seen carrying a light machine gun. Sightings of these armaments are unusual in light of France’s strict gun control rules and blanket ban on military grade guns. Nevertheless illegal weapons have flowed into the French market for decades, with Kosovo in particular known to have been a centre of trafficking into the country as well as other Western European states.
Major riots across France have prompted responses from abroad, one of the most alarmist being that of Russian Senator Andrey Klishas who suggested on July 1 that “EU leaders [should] discuss the stability of the political regime in France and check whether the nuclear arsenal is safe.” This appeared to be a tongue-in-cheek points mirroring those made by Western observers when Russia faced a brief rebellion by Wagner Group paramilitary forces the previous week. Some sources have speculated that riots may be receiving support or instigation from abroad, while others have portrayed the riots as a war between France’s African migrant communities and the European ethnic majority – an even hailed by European supremacists on social media as a potential watershed moment which could ‘clean out’ non-European ethnic groups.
Other sources have sharply contrasted the responses of Western media to the riots in France with similarly violent incidents in cities outside the Western sphere of influence such as Almaty in 2022, Hong Kong and Bangkok in 2019, Kiev in 2014, Benghazi in 2011 among others. In Paris as the government of President Emanuel Macron has refused to declare a state of emergency there have been growing calls for the military to take control of the situation and supervise new elections which could again unify the country, with Macron’s administration having been faced with growing unrest over the past year particularly over highly unpopular pension reforms. Macron himself has also been the target of growing criticisms from across the Western world on foreign policy issues including his warnings against escalating hostilities with China, his state visit to Beijing in April and, despite significant arms deliveries to Ukraine, his outspoken calls for dialogue with Moscow.