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France moves to shut down far-right groups amid anger over teenager's killing

The coffin of Thomas, a teenager stabbed to death in a fight in the French village of Crépol.
The coffin of Thomas, a teenager stabbed to death in a fight in the French village of Crépol. Copyright OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP
Copyright OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP
By Euronews with AFP
Published on Updated
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Several people were arrested at an 'ultra-right' march in Lyon on Monday evening.

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France's interior minister announced on Tuesday that he would request the dissolution of three ultra-right-wing groups following an attack by militants last weekend and the arrest of several protesters at a march in Lyon.

"I'm going to propose the closure of various groups", Gérald Darmanin told France Inter, warning that a "firm" reaction is needed to avert "a civil war scenario"

Among the targeted organisations he named was "a group called the Martel Division, whose name alone scares us, and two others whose names I can't mention".

Darmanin's announcement comes after a string of right-wing clashes with police after the fatal stabbing of a teenager, Thomas, in a fight that broke out after a dance in the village of Crépol. Ten suspects, including three minors, have been remanded in custody over the incident, which has sparked incidents of Islamophobic hate speech from the far-right.

The National Assembly will observe a minute's silence to mourn his death on Tuesday afternoon.

Last weekend, around a hundred ultra-right-wing activists from various towns marched in balaclavas through the southeastern town of Romans-sur-Isère in a bid to "do battle" with young people from the La Monnaie neighbourhood, home to several of those accused in young Thomas's death.

The marchers clashed with police who blocked their path. On Monday, six people were sentenced by the Valence criminal court to between six and ten months' imprisonment for "participation in a group formed to prepare violence" or "damage".

Darmanin welcomed these convictions, saying that the reaction of the authorities and the forces of law and order had made it possible "to avoid an Irish-style scenario", referring to the riots that hit Dublin last week after a knife attack that left four people injured.

"Because it has been firm, France has avoided a scenario of petty civil war", said the Minister of the Interior, adding that Thomas' death, a "despicable tragedy", should not "allow anyone else to stand up in the name of the State to dispense justice".

"There is a mobilisation in the ultra-right that wants to tip us into civil war", he continued, pointing out that 12 plans for violent action by the ultra-right had been recorded by the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecution Service (Pnat) since 2017.

Darmanin has called on law enforcement and local officials in general to take preventative measures against any gatherings that could lead to violent action.

His announcement comes after eight people were arrested on Monday evening on suspicion of taking part in an undeclared ultra-right-wing procession in Lyon city centre.

Thirteen people were also arrested on Saturday in the 17th arrondissement of Paris on suspicion of having spray-painted swastikas on the ground. Several of them are due to be brought before a judge on Tuesday morning.

Identity politics

According to a recent parliamentary report, the overall French far-right identitarian movement is thought to number almost 3,300 people, including 1,300 on the "Fiche S" national security watch list.

Comprising former members of Zouaves Paris and Bastion Social, groups that have already been disbanded, the identitarian Martel Division was formed in the second half of 2022.

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It came to prominence in December during an attempted mob attack on North African supporters during the France-Morocco World Cup semi-final.

Several activists from the group were also present at the end of April in Saint-Brévin, where a demonstration against a reception centre for asylum seekers led to clashes.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, at least one member of the group is suspected of being involved in the violence in Romans-sur-Isère.

"For several months, the services have been working on this de facto group, which aims to promote the use of violence to foster the advent of nationalist and xenophobic supremacy," the Interior Ministry told AFP.

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