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President Emmanuel Macron issued a firm call to restore “order” in France on Monday, in a televised interview that came at the end of a 100-day period that he had set to exit the turmoil caused by his decision to raise the retirement age to 64. But his plan for normalcy was overshadowed by violent rioting this month after the fatal police shooting of a teenager.
“The lesson I’ve drawn is, first, order, order, order,” Mr. Macron told the TF1 and France 2 television channels from New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific — the first of several stops on a trip to Oceania this week.
The interview was Mr. Macron’s first since the rioting, which was prompted last month by the killing of Nahel Merzouk, 17, a French citizen of North African descent, during a police traffic stop west of Paris. The officer who fired the fatal shot has been charged with voluntary homicide and detained.
Thousands of cars were burned and hundreds of buildings were damaged, including schools, police stations and town halls. The unrest lasted less than a week but was rooted in deeply seated anger and mistrust toward the police in France’s poorer, minority-dominated urban enclaves. About 4,000 people were arrested, many minors with no criminal records.
“Our country needs authority to be restored at every level,” Mr. Macron said, insisting parents and schools had a role to play.
While the protests quickly subsided, unresolved tensions over disputed French policing practices still run high. Most recently, police unions have expressed fury over the jailing of an officer in Marseille accused of assault.
The interview was supposed to cap a 100-day period that Mr. Macron had laid out in April, with a promise to take stock of his government’s action around Bastille Day, in mid-July. When he set the target, he was trying to move past a protracted, bitter conflict over his decision to raise the legal retirement age to 64, from 62, a move that led to months of massive street protests.
To some degree, Mr. Macron’s efforts to put the protests behind him appear to have succeeded. Noisy demonstrations where protesters banged pots and pans have all but faded. In the interview on Monday, pension reform was not mentioned.
“Over the past 100 days, the government, with Parliament, and the entire country have moved forward,” Mr. Macron said.
Among other achievements, Mr. Macron mentioned a significant increase in military spending, the opening of France’s first electric car battery plant — part of his push to reindustrialize the country — and a new water conservation plan to cope with a hotter, drier future.
But he also acknowledged that France, despite investing billions of euros to revamp urban suburbs, had not succeeded in significantly improving living conditions in many places where riots took place.
“We concentrated difficulties in the same neighborhoods,” he said, adding that his government would work on undoing that trend, without elaborating.
The aftermath of this month’s riots has been most acutely felt in continuing disputes over French policing. Most recently, critics expressed outrage after a top police official condemned the jailing of an officer in Marseille who has been accused of violently assaulting a man during the demonstrations.
“Knowing he’s in prison keeps me awake at night,” Frédéric Veaux, the head of France’s national police, told Le Parisien on Sunday, adding that barring cases involving “integrity or honesty,” officers had “no place in prison,” even if they made serious professional errors. “Police officers must be accountable for their actions,” he said, but they are not “criminals or thugs.”
The comments — which were approved by the Paris police prefect, another top official — set off a barrage of criticism from left-wing parties and magistrate unions.
“Calling for a special form of justice for police officers is contrary to the constitutional principle of equality before the law, serves only partisan interests and undermines the necessary mutual trust between two complementary institutions,” said the Union Syndicale des Magistrats, France’s main magistrate union, while an alliance of left-wing parties called Mr. Veaux’s comments an “extremely serious and worrying” breach of the separation of powers.
The officer in Marseille is one of four who are facing assault charges, but only he has been detained. Some officers reacted by staging unofficial walkouts in Marseille, by calling in sick or refusing to treat nonurgent cases.
In his interview, Mr. Macron declined to comment about the episode specifically.
But he praised the police for bringing the rioting under control, noting that 900 officers were injured during the unrest and insisting that only a small minority had been accused of violence. Police authorities have opened 28 internal inquiries over misconduct during the riots, he said.
“No one in the Republic is above the law,” Mr. Macron said. But, he added, “I understand the emotion felt by our police officers, who felt like they were confronted with the most extreme violence.”
Mr. Macron’s interview also came after a minor cabinet reshuffle that was announced with little fanfare last week, despite media speculation that Mr. Macron might appoint a new prime minister to replace Élisabeth Borne and to signal the start of a new phase in his presidency. Instead, he kept her on.
“It’s the choice of trust, continuity and efficiency,” Mr. Macron said.
He made only minimal changes to his cabinet, and most main ministers remained in place. But Pap Ndiaye — a prominent academic of Senegalese and French descent who had become the regular target of criticism by the right and far right — was replaced after barely a year as education minister by Gabriel Attal, a Macron loyalist who was previously the budget minister.
The reshuffle also saw the departure of Marlène Schiappa, a junior minister who courted controversy by posing for Playboy and who was then embroiled in a scandal over the misuse of taxpayer money by an anti-radicalism fund she had set up in a prior government position.
Posted on 24 Jul 2023 20:06 link