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Violence erupts in Paris as 20,000 protest the 2016 death of black man in French police custody

Some 20,000 protesters last night rallied in Paris to demonstrate against the 2016 death of a young black man in French police custody, mirroring the slogans and symbols used in the George Floyd riots in the US.

The protest rapidly descended into rioting, with bonfires lit in the street outside the Tribunal de Paris courthouse before police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the barricaded demonstrators.

They were protesting after the release of two differing medical reports into the cause of Adama Traore's death, a 24-year-old black man who died in July 2016 after three arresting officers pinned him down with their combined bodyweight.

Many chanted, 'I can't breathe,' the words Floyd gasped last Monday as a white police knelt on his neck before he died in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd's death has sparked anarchy in the US and outrage across the globe.  

Riot police fired tear gas as scattered protesters pelted them with debris and set fires outside the Tribunal de Paris courthouse, at the tail-end of a demonstration against racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics.

In defiance of coronavirus restrictions, thousands gathered at the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring road around the French capital, where they blocked terrified motorists and clambered onto lorries.

Scroll down for video. 

A demonstrator raises his fists in front of a burning barricade as thousands flocked to the Tribunal de Paris courthouse on Tuesday night and clashed with police over the killing of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black Frenchman of Malian origin who died in July 2016 after three officers pinned him down with their combined bodyweight

Demonstrators in Paris follow suit with those rioting in the United States as they 'take a knee' in front of a bonfire raging in the street last night. They were protesting after the release of two differing medical reports into the cause of Adama Traore's death, a 24-year-old black man who died in July 2016 after three arresting officers pinned him down with their combined bodyweight.

Demonstrators during a rally in Paris, France, on June 2020, protesting against the death of Adama Traore. Many of the protesters drew inspiration from the protest movement in the United States over the police killing last week of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, brandishing placards in English such as 'Black Lives Matter' and 'I can't breathe'

Demonstrators during a rally in Paris, France, on June 2020, protesting against police brutality. Riot police fired tear gas as scattered protesters pelted them with debris and set fires outside the Tribunal de Paris courthouse, at the tail-end of a demonstration against racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics.

With the demonstration winding down, police fired tear gas and protesters could be seen throwing debris. Two small fires broke out, and green and grey barriers surrounding a construction site were knocked over

Several thousand people had previously rallied peacefully for two hours outside the courthouse as global outrage over the death of George Floyd in the Minnesota kindled frustrations across borders and continents

Violence erupted in Paris tonight after thousands of demonstrators turned up at a banned protest against alleged racist policing in support of two black men separately killed in police custody

Riot police wielding shields attempt to push rioters back last night. 'Gangs are getting on to the road and stopping the traffic too,' said a demonstrator at the scene. 'The fires are huge - it's getting very ugly indeed.'

Heavily armoured officers guard the streets of Paris last night as a bonfire burns in the street after protests over police brutality

Huge crowds turned up undeterred by the police warning, and by 9.30pm fires had been lit underneath the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring road around the French capital

The junction outside the Timhotel was left filled with tear gas after the protests soon unravelled into rioting, with demonstrators lighting bonfires and clashing with officers

Projectiles including fireworks were also being thrown at the police, who estimated the crowd number at 20,000.

'Gangs are getting on to the road and stopping the traffic too,' said a demonstrator at the scene. 'The fires are huge - it's getting very ugly indeed.'

With the demonstration winding down, police fired tear gas and protesters could be seen throwing debris. Two small fires broke out, and green and grey barriers surrounding a construction site were knocked over.

Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille. French protests sometimes degenerate into violence by a few rowdy demonstrators.

In a sign of solidarity, demonstrations were also held in other French cities in honour of Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd's death.

The Traore case has become emblematic of the fight against police brutality in France. The circumstances of the death of the 24-year-old Frenchman of Malian origin are still under investigation after four years of conflicting medical reports about what happened.

Mr Traore had run away from a police check in Beaumont-sur-Oise, a town north of Paris, and hours later died at a nearby police station.

The vague circumstances of the incident have led to allegations of a state cover-up, and his family have been fighting for justice ever since.

Security forces intervene in a protest against police brutality at the 'Tribunal de Paris' courthouse on Tuesday night

Security forces use tear gas as they intervene in a protest against police brutality at the 'Tribunal de Paris' courthouse

Thousands of people gathered to protest against racism and police brutality despite a police order that the protest not proceed due to coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. The protesters decried the 2016 death of Adama Traore while in police custody in the Paris suburbs, drawing comparisons to the recent killing of George Floyd in the US

A bonfire burns on the streets of Paris last night after thousands took to the streets over the death of Traore in 2016, which has become a symbol of police brutality against black people, like Floyd in the United States

Bonfires burn in the street outside the central Paris courthouse last night as demonstrators raged against the death of Traore in 2016

Traffic is blocked on the streets of Paris last night as a bonfire, using a rubbish bin and its contents as fuel, burns in the street

A protester at the scene last night rides his bike in front of a bonfire in scenes like those which have erupted in the US over the last week

Protesters are seen rushing around the streets of Paris last night as riot police attempted to quell the unrest

They say he died from asphyxiation caused by officers, while police claim Mr Traore died from a heart attack due to pre-existing medical condition.

In a new video message posted on social media on Tuesday, Mr Traore's sister, Assa Traore, said people should show their anger 'at a time when the world, when France is outraged by the death of George Floyd'.

She said both Mr Traore and Mr Floyd 'had used the same words, their last words: 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe,' and said medical experts working for the police were releasing reports that were 'racist and untrue'. 

The lawyer for two of the three police officers involved in Traore's arrest, Rodolphe Bosselut, said the Floyd and Traore cases 'have strictly nothing to do with each other.' Bosselut also alleged that Traore's death wasn't linked with the conditions of his arrest but other factors, including a pre-existing medical condition.

Traore's family continue to say he died from asphyxiation because of police tactics.

There have been frequent complaints about racist violence carried out by the French police, particularly in incidents involving young black men, or those from Arab backgrounds.

In 2017, four officers were accused of anally violating a 22-year-old called Theo Luhaka with a telescopic truncheon, causing him lifelong injuries, in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois.

It comes as police also face criminal charges for a series of allegedly racist attacks as they enforced curfews and other tough law and order measures during the Coronavirus crisis.

A water cannon extinguishes a fire after clashes erupt following the intervention of security forces in a protest against police brutality at the 'Tribunal de Paris' courthouse

The protest was originally planned for Tuesday evening by supporters of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black Frenchman of Malian origin who died in similar circumstances to Mr Floyd in July 2016

But Didier Lallement, the Paris police prefect, said it could not go ahead because of Coronavirus restrictions on public demonstrations that forbid any gathering of more than 10 people

Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille. French protests sometimes degenerate into violence by a few rowdy demonstrators

In a sign of solidarity, demonstrations were also held in several French cities in honour of Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd's death.

There have been frequent complaints about racist violence carried out by the French police, particularly in incidents involving young black men, or those from Arab backgrounds

Prosecutors opened an enquiry in April after a 30-year-old motorcyclist from an Arab Muslim background was critically injured following a collision with an unmarked police car in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, which is less than 10 miles from central Paris.

This led to emergency workers including police becoming the target of rioters, who threw rocks and fireworks. 

Diplomatic ire percolated too, with the European Union's top foreign policy official saying the bloc was 'shocked and appalled' by Floyd's death. 

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell's remarks in Brussels were the strongest to come out of the 27-nation bloc, saying Floyd's death was a result of an abuse of power.

Protests over the killing have escalated worldwide, with protestor all across Europe sending their solidarity with US demonstrators increasingly mixed with local worries

A female protestor holds up a sign reading 'Who do you call when the police murders' in reference to George Floyd and Adama Traore, black men who both died in police custody

Streets surrounding Paris' largest courthouse were close down by the protestors, who later spilled into the traffic as the event ended

Riot police are seen sealing off a road with police vans as a pile of debris including a bicycle and railings burn in the middle of the road

Borrell told reporters that 'like the people of the United States, we are shocked and appalled by the death of George Floyd.' He underlined that Europeans 'support the right to peaceful protest, and also we condemn violence and racism of any kind, and for sure, we call for a de-escalation of tensions.' 

Protests over the killing have escalated worldwide, with protestor all across Europe sending their solidarity with US demonstrators increasingly mixed with local worries.

'When you refuse to treat the problem of racism ... it leads to what we see in the United States,' said Dominique Sopo, head of French activist group SOS Racisme. 'The case of George Floyd echoes what we fear in France.'

Floyd died last week after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The death set off protests that spread across America - and now, beyond.

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