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French police arrest nine after further violent clashes in Paris suburbs

French police officers enter an apartment building during clashes in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, in the northern suburbs of Paris, early on April 21, 2020.  Tension with the police erupted again on the evening of April 20 in Villeneuve-la-Garenne near Paris, where a motorcycle accident involving the police had provoked the first clashes with residents two days before.
French police officers enter an apartment building during clashes in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, in the northern suburbs of Paris, early on April 21, 2020. Tension with the police erupted again on the evening of April 20 in Villeneuve-la-Garenne near Paris, where a motorcycle accident involving the police had provoked the first clashes with residents two days before. AFP - GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT

Nine people have been arrested in suburbs around Paris during a fourth night of clashes between youths and police. The unrest was sparked after a motorcyclist was injured in a collision with an unmarked police car that was enforcing strict lockdown rules to tackle the coronavirus.

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Skirmishes broke out in the early hours of Wednesday in several neighborhoods of Hauts-de-Seine, west of the capital.

In nearby Gennevilliers, a primary school was partially damaged after being deliberately set on fire, according to the prefecture of the department. 

The fire began at around 23h35 local time in the head teacher's office before spreading to other classrooms.

"One or more individuals entered the establishment before the fire started," a police source told AFP, adding that the incident had occurred "outside the zones of urban violence." 

Unrest was also reported in six neighbouring districts, including Seine-Saint-Denis and Villeneuve-La-Garenne, north of Paris, where the trouble first erupted last weekend.

Projectiles were hurled at officers, who have been targeted by fireworks and torched rubbish bins by crowds of youths, which led the police department on Tuesday to ban the sale of pyrotechnics in Paris and its outskirts until 27 April.

In the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, police carried out nine arrests and reported that no person had been harmed.

"The situation in Paris' suburbs is globally under control and is less tense than previous nights," the same police source said.

Fraught relations

French police are facing fresh allegations of using heavy-handed tactics after a motorcyclist was injured last Saturday after colliding with the open door of an unmarked police car during a pursuit.

Witnesses said the officers had deliberately opened the door into the path of the motorcyclist, who required surgery to his leg. A claim denied by police.

Security forces, who have launched an enquiry into the incident, said they had wanted to question the rider who had been seen speeding the wrong way down a street without a helmet.

On Tuesday night, the 30-year-old motorcyclist released a video from his hospital bed calling for calm and urging angry youths to "return to their homes."

Covid-Lockdown

The incident, right during France's strict lockdown to tackle Covid-19, has exacerbated long-simmering tensions in the banlieues – high-rise, low-income neighbourhoods that encircle many of the country's cities.

On Saturday, youths aimed volleys of fireworks down streets towards police lines, who responded with tear gas and controversial rubber-launchers or LBDs.

Several people have taken to social media to denounce the heavy lockdown policing.

However, politicians such as right-wing leader Marine Le Pen have gone on Twitter to blast the laxity of the French government after it freed hundreds of prisoners to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Le Pen tweeted "this is no longer time for charitable sentiments, excuses or disastrous policies: the time has come to disarm and neutralise the scum."

The wave of unrest in the banlieues has revived memories of the 2005 riots. Fifteen years ago, two youths were electrocuted as they tried to flee police in a northern suburb, which triggered three weeks of nationwide riots and a state of emergency.

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