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France’s government has turned to the task of helping thousands of damaged businesses recover as unrest eased following days of protests and rioting after police fatally shot 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk last week.
At least 2,000 businesses have been heavily damaged by rioters, according to early estimates by French employers’ federation Medef. However, the worst of the turmoil appears to be waning after several nights of heavy law enforcement deployment across the country.
“The peak that we experienced in the first evenings has passed,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday, adding that restoring order was now the “top priority”.
In a meeting with more than 200 mayors from affected communities on Tuesday afternoon, the president said he would push through an emergency law to accelerate reconstruction for damaged property. At least 5,892 vehicles and 1,105 buildings had been damaged by fire across the country, according to the interior ministry.
While visiting damaged businesses in the town of Arpajon, about one hour south of Paris, finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday that insurance providers had committed to speeding up claims and providing flexibility on filing deadlines and deductibles for affected businesses.
The government would also consider modifying or, in exceptional cases, cancelling taxes and social contributions, he said.
“I share the feeling of disgust of all the businesspeople I have met, and their feelings of profound sadness and . . . discouragement,” Le Maire said. “When your business has been completely burnt down, and it’s the work of a lifetime that has been reduced to ashes, the state must be at your side.”
Despite the damage to individual businesses, the impact of the unrest on the wider economy would be “negligible”, said a finance ministry source.
Arrests in France halved overnight, as protests subsided. A total of 3,486 people have been detained since the night of June 27, when demonstrators took to the streets to express their outrage after footage went viral of a police officer shooting Merzouk during a traffic stop in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre.
Medef estimated dealing with the looting and other damage to businesses would cost at least €1bn, a sum expected to rise as more claims are made. More than 200 food retailers, 436 tobacco shops and 370 bank branches had been damaged or destroyed, according to government tallies, as well as dozens of gyms, clothing and hardware stores. At least 25 supermarkets have been burnt down, 15 of which belonged to German grocery chain Aldi alone, Medef said.
A police deployment of 45,000 officers per night remained in place overnight, with interior minister Gérald Darmanin pledging that the response to the unrest would still be “firm”. No officers were injured on Monday night, the first time this had happened since the violence began.
For business owners, however, rebuilding is a daunting prospect. “We just recovered from Covid, we get our heads above water and now we’re right back down again,” said Emmanuelle Duporte, who runs a Citroën garage in Arpajon where more than 30 vehicles were damaged.
“We thought we were in a nightmare . . . We can’t understand it. Why destroy like this, what is the point? This is a life’s work, it’s traumatic.”
Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris
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