Macron to visit Marseille as city battles ‘explosion’ of gang-related violence

France's justice minister promised more magistrates for Marseille on Tuesday to help clear a backlog of cases as the port city deals with an "explosion" of drug-related gang violence that has seen four people killed in the last week.

Macron to visit Marseille as city battles 'explosion' of gang-related violence
Photo: Franck Pennant/AFP

Eric Dupond-Moretti visited France’s third-biggest city on Tuesday, reflecting concern about crime and insecurity there following a spike in tit-for-tat gang attacks that saw one man burned alive inside a car at the weekend.

“The justice system needs resources,” Dupond-Moretti told reporters, adding that he would “respond favourably in the coming days” to demands from the heads of Marseille’s court system for more magistrates to prosecute and judge suspects.

Two people died overnight Saturday-Sunday in a drive-by shooting in the poverty-wracked 14th district of Marseille, while another man was forced into a car in the centre of the city that was set on fire shortly afterwards.

Last Wednesday, a 14-year-old was killed by automatic gunfire, also in the northern 14th district, close to an area known as a drug-dealing hotspot.

Marseille’s chief prosecutor, Dominique Laurens, told a press conference on Monday that there had been an “explosion” in gang-related murders since the middle of June.

Twelve people have been killed in the last two months, according to police figures.

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to visit next week and address the city’s entrenched poverty and public order problems.

Marseille’s northern districts, some of France’s poorest areas and a world away from the wealthy seafront neighbourhoods, are the focus of the city’s drug and gang problems.

“My children want us to leave. It’s a disaster what we have to live through here,” a mother in the 14th district told AFP on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

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France probes case of man gravely injured at water protest

French prosecutors said on Wednesday they were probing the case of a man seriously wounded at a demonstration over access to water, after his family filed a criminal complaint.

France probes case of man gravely injured at water protest

The 32-year-old has been fighting for his life in a coma since Saturday’s thousands-strong environmental protest against a new “mega-basin” gathering water for irrigation in the western Deux-Sevres region.

The probe was prompted by his parents, who filed a complaint alleging attempted murder as well as the prevention of access by first responders.

READ MORE: M├ęga-bassines: Why has a dispute over irrigation in French farmland turned violent?

Protest organisers said on Tuesday that the man, from the southwestern city Toulouse, was seriously wounded when he was struck in the head by a tear gas grenade fired by police.

“People close to him are determined to bear witness and uncover the truth about what happened,” they added.

The case is being investigated by military prosecutors in western city Rennes who have jurisdiction over France’s gendarmes — police officers belonging to the armed forces.

Warlike scenes of Saturday’s clashes between around 5,000 protesters and 3,200 police in the open fields made headlines over the weekend.

Fielding helicopters, armoured vehicles and water cannon, security forces fired thousands of tear gas grenades and dozens of other projectiles in a response the DGGN police authority described as “proportionate to the level of threat”.

Authorities say officers were faced with “an unprecedented explosion of violence” and targeted with Molotov cocktails and fireworks.

Ambulance access

But Human Rights League (LDH) observers on the scene said police made “unrestrained and indiscriminate use of force” against all the demonstrators, rather than targeting violent groups or individuals.

AFP journalists saw police begin using tear gas as soon as the marchers arrived.

Prosecutors in nearby Niort counted 47 wounded police and seven demonstrators requiring medical aid, including two in danger for their lives — one of whose condition has since improved.

Protest organisers complained of 200 wounded, 40 seriously including one person who lost an eye.

In an audio recording published by daily Le Monde, a member of the ambulance service told the LDH that “commanders on the ground” were holding them back from the scene, without identifying individuals.

The service said on Twitter Tuesday that “sending an ambulance with oxygen into an area with clashes is not recommended given the risk of explosion”.

Deux-Sevres’ prefect — the top government official in the region — wrote in a Tuesday report to the interior ministry that it was “very difficult” for ambulances to reach wounded demonstrators as “the clashes had not stopped or were starting again”.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has responded to the clashes by vowing to ban one of the associations that organised the protests.