Macron’s Lesson After Riots? France Needs Order ‘at Every Level’

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks while Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, left, listed, as he chairs a cabinet meeting after a cabinet reshuffle Friday, July 21, 2023 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool)

PARIS — 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,” 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 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.

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 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, 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.

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.

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