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Violent protests in France keep Macron at home

French police stand in position as fireworks go off during clashes with youth in Nanterre, a Paris suburb.

French police stand in position as fireworks go off during clashes with youth in Nanterre, a Paris suburb.

REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to cancel a state visit to Germany on Sunday – which would have been the first such event in 23 years – as riots continued across France. The now out-of-control situation was sparked by the June 27 killing of a young Arab man by a cop at a traffic stop in a Parisian suburb.

Several nights of riots and looting have led to thousands of arrests. But on Saturday night, just after the slain youth’s funeral, the violence intensified. The home of a suburban mayor south of Paris was targeted, and the mayor’s wife and children suffered injuries as they attempted to flee. Nationwide, tens of thousands of cops have been deployed to violent hotspots.

Macron is no stranger to mass protests, having faced the Yellow Vest protests over fuel taxes that paralyzed the country in 2018 and 2019. But there are several reasons why this latest explosion of public anger over racial injustice poses a deeper challenge for the president. First, it comes just months after nationwide demonstrations over a very unpopular pension reform that tanked Macron’s popularity.

What’s more, this current unrest – at the nexus of race, immigration, and law enforcement – provides the perfect fodder for the far-right, most notably Marine Le Pen of the National Rally (the second most popular party in the country), to cast the government as idle in the face of lawlessness and unchecked migration, two issues that really rile up the French electorate. Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, the far-left – led by Jean-Luc Melenchon – has railed hard against what they say is endemic racist policing.

We’ve said it before, but this unraveling again highlights the inherent difficulty of Macron’s attempt to intensely cling to the political center, bringing into renewed focus the adage that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing … nobody.


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