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Over 700 protesters have been arrested in Marseille, France

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Protests and unrest continued overnight in cities across France with over 700 arrests. This follows the police shooting of a teenager outside Paris last Tuesday. Some of the worst violence and looting is in the southern port city of Marseille. And that's where NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from. Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So before we hear a story that you've put together for us - and we should note that listeners will hear loud bangs from tear gas canisters - tell us more about what you're seeing there in the streets of Marseille.

BEARDSLEY: Well, just some surreal scenes - you know, there were large groups of young people in running battles with riot police right on the historical port and through the old city streets. All this while there's tourists walking around. And something new we're seeing this time around are very young protesters. President Emmanuel Macron has actually urged parents to take responsibility for their kids. I met some rioters as young as 14. Here's what it was like.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Justice for Nahel. Justice for Nahel. No justice, no peace.

BEARDSLEY: Justice for Nahel, the young man screams into my microphone, before running off with a pack of young men across the Port of Marseille with helmeted riot police in hot pursuit. The game went on into the wee hours Sunday morning. Thousands of angry young people are still protesting the killing of 17-year-old Nahel by a police officer at a routine traffic stop near Paris. Forty-five thousand police deployed overnight across France to try to put a damper on a fifth night of violence. In Marseille, vans of riot police blocked the tiny streets leading from the port. Helicopters hovered overhead.

God, a cat and mouse game in the city - it actually gets scary. Here comes the tear gas.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEAR GAS CANISTER EXPLODING)

BEARDSLEY: Come here. Come here.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEAR GAS CANISTER EXPLODING)

BEARDSLEY: When the cloud of tear gas clears, I talk to some of the young protesters.

(Speaking French).

NAIM: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We smashed everything," 14-year-old Naim sheepishly tells me. "But I didn't steal anything," he says. "That was the older boys." He says his parents don't know he's out here.

YASSIN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Fifteen-year-old Yassin got into more detail, but neither boy wants to give his last name. "They killed a kid, and we're here to make them understand they can't do this anymore," he tells me, "because the police hit us and treat us bad for no reason. They're supposed to protect us, and we're scared of them."

(Speaking French).

YASSIN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: But he admits there's also a bit of fun to all this. "Yeah, I won't lie," says Yassin. "We like the adrenaline rush."

(SOUNDBITE OF DRILL WHIRRING)

BEARDSLEY: A few hours earlier, I wandered the tiny streets behind Marseille's old port and watched shopkeepers board up their windows. Some 400 shops have been smashed and looted in the port city. Maxime Chevalier says the only reason he wasn't pillaged Friday night is because he stayed outside in front of his T-shirt and sneaker store till 4 a.m.

MAXIME CHEVALIER: (Through interpreter) It was like civil war. The police were overwhelmed. Young people were looting the stores. There were crazy scenes you'd expect from somewhere in the third world but completely unacceptable here.

BEARDSLEY: He says police did nothing to stop the looters, so he hired private security so he could go home and sleep. He also moved all the merchandise out of his boarded-up store just in case.

DANIEL BERTRAND: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Native Marsellais Daniel Bertrand says it's worrying, bizarre, and he wants to cry as he watches shopkeepers barricade. He says the authorities have been too lax for 30 years, and that's why these kids are out of control today.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).

BEARDSLEY: Florian Rodin is about to close his restaurant on the port. He believes it's more complicated than a question of asserting authority.

FLORIAN RODIN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He says a lot of young people of Arab and African origin live in neglected housing projects in Marseille, where drug dealers run things. He says many of them grow up feeling like second-class citizens. "You have to put yourself in their place," he says.

RASCOE: And, Eleanor, tell us more about the French government's response to all of this.

BEARDSLEY: Well, it's been very difficult. They've been under a lot of pressure. But authorities say the heavy security they've put in place over the last couple of days is having an effect. The violence may have run its course. Protests were smaller last night. But, Ayesha, these riots and protests have exposed deep-seated problems that could pop up again.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Marseille, France. Thank you so much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.
Eleanor Beardsley
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.