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Paris activist dies after far-right attack

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18-year-old Clément Meric. File photo: LCI/Screengrab
09:31 CEST+02:00
An 18-year-old left-wing activist died on Thursday after being left brain dead in an attack by far-right skinheads in Paris. There has been widespread horror and condemnation in France, and several arrests were made earlier on Thursday.

Clément Méric, an 18-year-old student at Sciences Po in Paris is officially deceased, police sources said on Thursday.

Méric, a left-wing and anti-fascist activist, originally from Brest in Brittany, was “violently attacked” by a group of three skinheads, including one woman, near Saint-Lazare train station on Wednesday evening, it emerged on Thursday.

Méric, known for his radical left-wing activism, had been left brain dead by the beating, which has provoked a flood of horrified and angry reactions from many different quarters in France. 

Thousands gathered on Thursday evening in cities all over France, to offer moral support to Méric's family, and to honour his memory.

This image shows hundreds gathering at Place Saint-Michel between the 5th and 6th arrondissements of Paris, close to Notre Dame cathedral.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls announced earlier on Thursday that seven arrests had been made, including that of the individual suspected of delivering the final blow to Méric.

French President François Hollande, speaking on an official visit to Japan, said he "condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms."

"I have given the most rigorous possible instructions so that the authors of the odious act can be arrested at the earliest possible juncture," he said in a statement.

The Parti de Gauche (Left Party) reflected the mood of many, especially on the Left, in France.

"The horror of fascism has just killed right in the middle of Paris,” they said in a statement.

“Violently beaten  to the ground by a group of activists from the extreme right, manifestly from the group JNR (Jeune Nationaliste Revolutionnaire), left motionless, he was declared this evening to be in a state of brain death at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris,” the statement added.

For his part, the leader of JNR, Serge Ayoub, also known as 'Batskin', has denied his group's involvement in the attack.

"That's absolutely false," he said.

An attacker 'wearing knuckle dusters'

A number of eyewitness reports, as well as a police source quoted by TF1 television, indicate that a group of left-wing activists had gone clothes shopping on Wednesday evening on rue Caumartin in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.

After far-right activists entered the same shop, there was an angry exchange of words and insults. When the group including Meric left the store, the extreme-right group had "brought reinforcements." 

The victim was hit by a man wearing what appeared to be knuckle dusters, according to initial reports.

One eyewitness, named only as Aurelia, described to French reporters the horrifying scenes she witnessed.

"I was out doing some shopping, when I found myself face to face with the attackers," who she told reporters had shaved heads and wore leather jackets.

"I saw the young man falling, and his head hitting a bollard. There was blood coming out of his ears and nose, and then he went into convulsions."

"He had a huge lump at the back of his head, and his face was covered in blood," she added.

Condemnation on all sides

There has been widespread anger and condemnation in France, from all sides of the political spectrum.

Bertrand Delanoe, the Socialist mayor of Paris described his "horror" at hearing about the attack, while French Interior Minister Manuel Valls had vowed to "eradicate this kind of violence, which bears the mark of the extreme right."

Harlem Désir, president of the governing Socialist Party has announced a rally in honour of Meric, to take place in Paris this evening.

For his part, Front Gauche (Left Front) leader Jean-Luc Mélénchon has called on Valls "to disband groups on the extreme right who, in the last few weeks, have committed numerous acts of violence in Paris and across the country." 

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Pierre Laurent, president of the French Communist Party has announced a rally in Paris this evening, along with the Parti Gauche, with whom his party forms the Left Front.

On the other side of the political spectrum, main centre-right opposition UMP leader Jean-François Copé took to Twitter to strongly condemn what he called a "barbaric attack."

Labeling the assault "an exercise in hatred," newly-selected UMP candidate for Paris mayor, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, told her Twitter followers, "such violence is a cancer on democracy."

Calls for civility amid recriminations

As well as condemnation of the attack on Méric, there have been recriminations and counter-accusations between some ideological opponents in France.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, made sure to distance her party from the violence.  
 
She called the attack on the young student repulsive and detestable but said far-right groups such as the JNR had no ties with her party.
 
Le Pen reacted angrily when it was put to her that one of the three aggressors was seen wearing a t-shirt with her party's logo.
 
"Making this kind of association is scandalous, I'd like very much to know who this witness is," Le Pen told RTL radio.  "You have no proof at all."
 
French industrialist and pro-gay marriage activist Pierre Bergé has caused a stir by implicating the anti-gay marriage movement, known as  'Manif Pour Tous' (Demo for all) in the
attack on Méric.
 
"Despite everyone who's insulting me, I say again: the Manif pour tous accepted into their ranks these fascists who killed Clément. For them to reflect on."
Leader of the Manif pour tous, comedian Frigide Barjot, has already vowed to sue Bergé, the former partner of the late Yves Saint Laurent, for defamation.
 
In an effort to prevent and calm such poisonous arguments, French housing minister Cécile Duflot, from the Europe Ecology the Greens party urged her Twitter followers to proceed "without hatred", and "remember  against whom, and why you're fighting."

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