NANTES (FRANCE) – Police in the western French city of Nantes fired teargas and water cannon at hundreds of demonstrators protesting Saturday against police violence and the unexplained death of a music festival-goer in June.
Demonstrations expressing solidarity took place in several other French cities across France, some organised by the “yellow jackets” protest movement.
In Nantes, emotions ran high when the crowd gathered in the morning by the banks of the river Loire, where the body of 24-year-old Steve Maia Canico was finally recovered Monday.
His body was found not far from where he was last spotted alive at an all-night event during the Festival of Music in Nantes on June 21-22.
Officers used tear gas to break up the party in the small hours of the morning and several revellers fell into the river during clashes.
Near a portrait of the young man now known across France simply as “Steve”, people threw flowers into the river while others held up placards with the slogans “Who killed Steve?” and “Where is the justice for Steve?”
This message echoed posters put up around Nantes during the time he was missing which simply asked “Where is Steve?”.
Later Saturday, hundreds of people of all ages marched on the local police headquarters. Police put the numbers at some 1,700.
Some set up barricades, windows were broken and police responded with teargas and water cannon when projectiles were thrown and fires started.
– ‘Take care of our children’ –
Police said they had arrested 42 people for “acts of violence and carrying a weapon”.
Two people were injured, a police officer and a protester, but not seriously, according to police figures.
A medic at the scene told AFP that the injured protester was a 54-year-old man who had suffered a heart attack last month.
The family of the dead man disassociated themselves from any violence and pleaded for calm, through their lawyer Cecile de Oliveira.
Among the protesters were mothers who said they feared for their own children of Steve’s age, who also frequent music festivals.
Valerie, 53, dressed in black, was in tears as she shouted at police “take care of our children, protect them”.
Other protests were held throughout France on Saturday, notably in Paris, Montpellier and Toulouse, as part of the long-running weekly anti-government “yellow vest” demonstrations.
In the French capital around a hundred people paid homage to Steve, observing a minute’s silence and leaving white roses.
The head of the national police’s general inspectorate, Brigitte Jullien, on Saturday denied having whitewashed the police action in Nantes.
David Chantreux, head of the national police’s enquiry unit said that a judicial enquiry has been opened into the death and witnesses were being questioned.
On Twitter, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner congratulated the police for their handling of the day’s event.
But many protesters, in their slogans and placards, have targetted what they say is increasingly indiscriminate police violence, blaming the government in general — and Castaner in particular.
Local activist group Nantes Revoltee, in their call to demonstrate on Saturday, argued that “the police attack on the Festival of Music is just the culmination of years of violence and impunity for the police”.