Why are people rioting in France? The reason behind the French protests

3 July 2023, 14:15

French riots in the streets and pictures of fire fighters putting out flames
French riots have been happening following a police shooting of a 17-year-old boy. Picture: Alamy

By Zoe Adams

What started the French riots? And where are they happening? Here's everything you need to know about the protests sweeping France.

France is experiencing uproar across their biggest cities as riots and protests are breaking out following the shooting of a teenage boy, Nahel Merzouk, 17.

The incident, which happened on Tuesday 27th June 2023, has led to thousands of arrests across cities including Paris and Marseille after huge gatherings took to the streets to make a stand against the French police.

French President Emmanuel Macron has held emergency security meetings and has called for calm, asking for parents to make sure their children are kept at home and off of social media in a bid to slow the riots.

However, stars including footballer Kylian Mbappe and actor Omar Sy have condemned the violence of French police but have also called for "peaceful and constructive" protests.

Read more: Paris firefighter, 24, dies fighting blaze in underground car park amid deadly France riots

Read more: French rioters ram burning car into mayor's home in 'assassination attempt' in fifth night of anarchy over teen killing

So what exactly caused the French riots? Is there a history? And where are the French riots happening? Here's the latest information.

A night time picture of Paris as rioters set cars alight
Paris riots 2023: Police and firefighters have been deployed across major cities following the violent protests. Picture: Alamy
French protests on the streets of Paris with people holding up 'peace for Nahel' signs
French protests are peacefully happening during the day while riots take place at night. Picture: Alamy

Why are people rioting in France 2023?

The most recent riots began after police shot 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk during a traffic stop in Nanterre, Paris.

Police reported that officers' lives were in danger, however, social media footage of the incident suggests that not to be true.

The death of the teenager, who was an only child, triggered protests across France which has included damaging property, cars being set on fire and thousands of arrests. A Parisian firefighter has also died fighting a blaze in an underground car park.

The police officer who shot Nahel has been arrested with the case immediately being referred to the courts by President Macron. He has also apologised to the family.

Nahel's family, along with many others, have called for the riots to calm down and have said some are just using his death as an excuse to riot.

There is a history of French riots against police across major cities as people continue to condemn police brutality.

Macron has said: "I would like to express the feelings of the entire nation at what has happened and the death of young Nahel, and to tell his family of our solidarity and the nation's affection.

"We have a teenager who has been killed. It's inexplicable, unforgivable."

Protesters in France standing on a statue with black gas canisters
Protests are beginning to show signs of slowing down after thousands of rioters have been arrested in under a week. Picture: Alamy

David Lammy queries the nature of rioting behaviour

Where are the French riots happening?

Paris is the most heavily affected part of France as it was closest to where Nahel was shot.

Nanterre and the surrounding suburbs of Paris are also particularly heavy. There are also riots in Lille, Toulouse, Marseille, Pau and Lyons.

Riots have swept cities for almost a week now but they are beginning to show signs of slowing down. Demonstrations are taking place during the day with riots taking over at night.

Travel to France isn't prohibited but the UK Foreign Office has warned people who are visiting to watch out for travel disruptions.

If you're visiting, keep up to date with latest announcements on the UK's government website and check the latest advice from travel operators and local authorities.