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Violent protests in Marseille ‘like a mini civil war’, says British national

Benjamin Klene, 33, described the riots and police presence in the port city as ‘disturbing’ and ‘very tense’.

Protests across France sparked by the police shooting of a 17-year-old last Tuesday have been described as like a “mini civil war” by a British national living in Marseille.

Six nights of violent unrest, which appeared to be easing overnight into Monday, were driven by a backlash against a French state that many young people with immigrant roots say routinely discriminates against them.

Riots have affected several areas of the country, including the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where the teenager – identified only by his first name, Nahel – was killed in his hometown.

On Monday, crowds of people gathered at town halls across France to show solidarity with the local governments that had been targeted – according to the interior ministry, 99 town halls have been attacked in the riots, along with other public buildings.

Residents gather in front of the city hall in Mons-en-Baroeul in northern France in a show of solidarity with the mayor of the Paris suburb of L’Hay-les-Roses after a burning car struck his home
Residents gather in front of the city hall in Mons-en-Baroeul in northern France in a show of solidarity with local authorities (Michel Spingler/AP)

Benjamin Klene, 33, from Oxford, who lives near the train station, the Gare St Charles, in Marseille, has described the riots and police presence as “disturbing” and “very tense”.

Mr Klene was driving home after celebrating a friend’s birthday on Friday night when he noticed a “disturbing” number of police on the streets.

Residents were told not to dispose of rubbish over the weekend for fear it would be used to start fires, and public transport across France’s second-largest city ground to a halt after 7pm, he said.

Mr Klene, who works in sales, told the PA news agency: “I was driving home on Thursday night and saw unmarked vans full of tactical, special unit police in assault gear.

France Police Shooting
Police officers patrol at the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Saturday (Christophe Ena/AP)

“It was like a mini civil war had suddenly broken out.

“All of the public transport has been stopped at night for four nights in a row and we’ve been told not to put rubbish out as bins are being used to start fires to block off roads.

“All of the restaurants and bars around my place have now been shut for the past three evenings because of the riots.

“On Friday morning, we were told by police to leave the city centre and stay with friends or relatives if possible for the weekend.

Protesters block a street with rubbish bins in Colombes, outside Paris
Protesters block a street with rubbish bins in Colombes, outside Paris (Lewis Joly/AP)

“There were police in riot gear all over the city and the atmosphere was very tense.”

By Monday afternoon, the unrest appeared to be easing, and Peter Pam, 26, who was on holiday in central Paris with his girlfriend, said they had had “zero negative encounters” from the riots.

“We have been here almost a week now and we have had zero negative encounters,” Mr Pam, from California, told the PA news agency.

“We are about a 10-minute walk away from the Eiffel Tower.

“I didn’t even know France was in trouble or having any riots until my friends and family from America messaged me yesterday asking if I was okay.”

Graffiti stating 'justice for Nahel' on a wall in the Paris suburb of Nanterre
Graffiti stating ‘Justice for Nahel’ on a wall in the Paris suburb of Nanterre (Cara Anna/AP)

Mr Pam, who proposed to his girlfriend on the second day of their trip, added that “everything looks peaceful” and “all businesses are open”.

“We have walked early in the morning, all day, and night, even took public transport and honestly it made us fall in love with the city,” he said.

“I didn’t hear any locals talking about it or preparing for it.

“People are walking their dogs and most look happy.

“All businesses are open and grocery stores are full.”

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