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Murder of French teenager could be society’s ‘tipping point’

The funeral of teenager Thomas took place as the French government called for calm after hard-Right activists reacted to his murder
The funeral of teenager Thomas took place as the French government called for calm after hard-Right activists reacted to his murder - OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images

The murder of a 16-year-old boy could prove a “tipping point for French society”, Emmanuel Macron’s government warned as civilians were told not to take the law into their own hands.

The stark words from spokesman Olivier Véran came as officials called for calm after armed “paramilitary” activists marched in a suburb where suspects arrested over the killing are thought to live.

The teenager, named only as Thomas, was killed on Nov 19 at a village dance party in Crépol, south of Lyon. He was stabbed during a brawl that is believed to have broken out when a group of youths, said to be from a nearby housing estate, tried to gatecrash the event. Nine people were wounded, four of them seriously.

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Conservative and hard-Right politicians have cast the death as evidence of danger from immigrants and minorities.

During a visit to the village of Crepol on Monday, Mr Véran said that the death of Thomas was “a tragedy that puts us at risk of a tipping-over of our society if we don’t rise to the occasion,” he said.

“It’s up to the judiciary to mete out justice. Not for the French public themselves,” he warned while acknowledging that the death of Thomas was the result of more than a “simple fight at a village dance”.

More than 100 hard-Right activists travelled to the nearby town of Romans-sur-Isere on Saturday looking for a fight with young people from La Monnaie neighbourhood, police said.

Government spokesman Olivier Véran visited the Crepol village where the teenage boy was stabbed to death
Government spokesman Olivier Véran visited the Crepol village where the teenage boy was stabbed to death - MOURAD ALLILI/SIPA/Shutterstock

Another hard-Right gathering in Romans was dispersed by police on Sunday.

Thierry Devimeux, the state prefect of the Drôme, said: “They tried to enter the Monnaie district with violence since some of them were wearing helmets, armed with baseball bats, iron bars or firecrackers, mortars,” he added.

With 24 people held in custody since Friday in connection with the events, Laurent de Caigny, the senior prosecutor,  insisted “no one can take justice into their own hands outside the law” and urged people to allow investigators to do their work.

“Those who oppose this by illegitimate violence will answer for it,” he added.

The violence echoed the riots in Dublin this week following the stabbing of four people, including three children, by a man who was originally from Algeria but who had Irish citizenship. He had mental health issues.

Nine people have been charged over the Crépol attack for offences including murder and attempted murder. Six of these, including two minors, have been remanded in custody. Although prosecutors have not released the identities of the suspects, Right-wing politicians and newspapers said they were of North African origin.

Prosecutor de Caigny said the violence appeared to have broken out for “petty reasons” rather than being a premeditated attack based on “race, ethnicity, nationality or religion” – perhaps even a passing remark about “somebody’s haircut”.

But prosecutors have added that nine of the 104 witnesses interviewed reported hearing hostile language “about white people” during the fight.

Thomas was murdered during a brawl at a party, believed to have started after a group of youths, said to be from a nearby housing estate, tried to gatecrash
Thomas was murdered during a brawl at a party, believed to have started after a group of youths, said to be from a nearby housing estate, tried to gatecrash

Hard-Right groups have called for revenge and claim this was a premeditated “anti-white” attack by “thugs” of immigrant origin. Left-wing and anti-racism groups branded the hard-Right march a “ratonnade” (rationally-motivated attack) and called on the government to act.

“They claim to defend the nation, they divide it. They are the opposite of the decency and dignity which animated the white march for Thomas and his funeral”, said Left-wing MP François Ruffin of France Unbowed party, pointing the finger at Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and polemist Eric Zemmour’s anti-immigrant Reconquest group.

Amid the hostilities, death threats were daubed on a mosque in Cherbourg in Normandy, while in Paris 13 people were arrested after being caught painting swastikas on the pavement.

The Crepol incident came at a time when France was already on edge, with a surge in anti-Semitic incidents since Hamas’ Oct 7 attack on Israel and the state’s bombing and invasion of the Gaza Strip in response. There have been increasing warnings of “savagery” in France since nationwide riots this summer sparked by the police killing of a teenager descended into widespread looting.

Last month’s killing of a teacher by a Muslim former pupil originally from Russia has also stoked tensions.

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