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France closing access to Nantes by 'trouble makers' after man's death

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PARIS (Reuters) – French authorities will shut access to the city of Nantes to “trouble makers” on Saturday to guard against unrest at a tribute to a man who drowned, after yellow-vest protesters said they would join the march.

The body of 24-year-old Steve Canico was found in the Loire river 38 days after police clashed with concert-goers by the riverbank. His death has sparked anger in the city and raised questions about police tactics.

Coming after months of yellow-vest protests, during which police were criticised for heavy use of force, Canico’s disappearance at a late-night open-air techno concert fuelled accusations police had overreacted when they broke up the gathering and 14 people fell into the river.

Canico’s body was found by a boatman about 1 km downstream, following five weeks of protests and calls of “Where Is Steve” on social media. On Tuesday, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe released a report saying no link had been found between the police intervention and Canico’s disappearance.

That has led to calls on social media by yellow vest protesters and so-called black blocs hooligans to join the march on Saturday and turn it into a protest against police brutality and cover-ups.

“We don’t want anybody to steal this moment of emotion,” the top state official in Nantes, prefect Claude d’Harcourt, told reporters, saying he would allow the march but ban protesters from dispersing into the city centre.

“I can tell you we’ll have the means to face down these trouble makers,” he said, pointing at additional support from the central government.

Nantes and the wider Britanny and Loire regions have a history of violent and sustained protests. Fierce opposition to the construction of a new airport in Nantes afflicted the French government for years.

President Emmanuel Macron, who is at his summer residence on the Mediterranean, has said he was closely following the issue, and his interior minister and prime minister have been on the airwaves to avoid the situation from spiralling out of control.

(Reporting by Michel Rose, editing by Larry King)

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