PARIS — A gay rights activist has been killed by a group of skinheads in the heart of Paris’ shopping district, officials said Thursday, in an attack that has raised fears of increased far-right violence.
Political tensions are high in France after months of protests against legalizing same-sex marriage that sometimes ended with troublemakers from the extreme right clashing with police.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls said a fight broke out Wednesday evening between two groups of young people in a pedestrian street just steps away from the famous Printemps department store.
At one point, the 18-year-old activist was beaten by several skinheads, according to Valls, a widely respected, center-leaning member of President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government.
According to reports, activist Clement Meric was punched by a shaven-headed man wearing a knuckle-duster during a scuffle close to the Printemps department store. He struck his head on a metal post as he fell and was taken to hospital where he was pronounced brain dead.
Meric died Thursday, said Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office.
Article continues belowFour suspects, aged 20 to 37 and believed to have links to extreme right movements, were arrested, Thibault-Lecuivre said.
It was unclear how the fight developed and how many people were involved in the attack on a crowded street with cafes and chain stores.
Politicians from left and right lashed out at the violence, including the president. Valls focused his anger at the skinheads.
“There is no place for small neo-Nazi groups whose enemy is the nation,” he said. “A group of the extreme right is at the heart of this … There is a discourse of hate and a climate that favors this discourse. We need to pay attention to this, because they threaten our values.”
Meric was a student at Sciences Po, one of France’s most prestigious universities, according to the school.