French riots an unwelcome, perilous crisis for Macron
The riots in France sparked by the police killing of a teenager represent a deeply unwelcome and perilous crisis for President Emmanuel Macron, just as he was looking to press ahead with his second mandate.
The violence erupted just after Macron finally saw off half a year of protests over his controversial pension reform, which dominated the domestic agenda for most of this year.
But the images of shops ransacked and buses burned across the country also risk hurting Macron's international standing at a time he wants to play an instrumental role in ending the Russian invasion of Ukraine and be seen as Europe's number one powerbroker.
In a hugely embarrassing development for Macron, the rioting has forced him to cancel a state visit to Germany that was due to start this weekend and was to have been the first such trip by a French head of state in 23 years.
The postponement is doubly awkward for the Elysee as Macron had earlier this year put off a planned state visit by the UK's King Charles III -- which would have been his first foreign trip as monarch -- due to the often-violent pensions protests.
He also cut short his attendance at an EU summit in Brussels this week, rushing back to Paris to chair a crisis meeting without giving a press conference.
After a first term that became dominated by combating the anti-government Yellow Vests protests and then the Covid-19 pandemic, the centrist's second term again risks being marked by troubleshooting rather than implementing policy.
The rioting "is very bad news for the president", who had been hoping for a smooth ride into the summer capped by a cabinet reshuffle to re-energise the government and move on from the pensions crisis, said Bruno Cautres, researcher at the Political Research Centre of Sciences Po university.
"People are amazed to see how our country is confronted by tensions, violence and crises, one after the other," he added, warning: "No leader can take the risk of having another conflagration like this in a few months."
The riots broke out this week just as Macron was finishing a major three-day trip to the southern city of Marseille where he had sought to push an agenda of getting to grips with urban problems in France's most disadvantaged areas.
He was also mocked in foreign media, which accused him of attending the farewell concert of Elton John in Paris on Wednesday hours before some of the worst rioting in recent days erupted.
"With Covid, the Yellow Vests and the war on Ukraine, nothing has spared him," a source close to Macron told AFP, asking not to be named.
Macron, whose ruling party lost its overall majority in parliament in the 2022 legislative elections, needs to tread a fine line domestically.
He is acutely aware that far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen has her eyes on taking the Elysee in 2027 elections -- which would wreck his legacy even if he cannot stand in those polls -- and has nudged the government to the right on security matters.
The eyes of the world -- astonished to see near-apocalyptic images taken outside tourist cities like Paris and Lyon -- are also on France as Paris gears up to host the Olympics in just over a year.
In dealing with the riots Macron has been eager to balance anger over the police killing -- which he called "unforgivable" -- with stern calls for order including pleas to parents to keep their children home.
"He will be judged on his ability to ease tensions. For him the danger is to appear weak and irresolute," said Jean Garrigues, a historian specialising in political history.
But Macron has so far stopped short of declaring a state of emergency in the areas affected -- which would give police greater powers -- as urged by the right.
The Le Monde daily said he had tried to "stop the cycle of urban violence by greatly stepping up the means (used by the police) and using political communication, while stopping short of declaring a state of emergency".
Taking a hard line on the outburst of urban rioting in 2005 after the deaths of two youths who were being chased by police proved hugely beneficial for then-interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who would later claim the presidency.
"A policy of firmness could also pay off for Emmanuel Macron," said Garrigues.