LYON, France (Reuters) - Youths in the southeastern French town of Firminy burned cars and smashed shops for the third night in a row Thursday in protest over the death in police custody of a young man.
The riots began late Thursday after some 200 people staged a sit-in in front of the house of the family of Mohamed Benmouna, a local 21-year-old who died Wednesday after what police said was a suicide attempt.
About 150 riot police were deployed, reinforced by a helicopter, as youths went on a rampage in the town center, setting fire to a pharmacy, a bakery and several small shops.
Metal grills protecting the shops and stone-throwing by local youths made it difficult for emergency services to put out the fires, local authorities said.
Police said Benmouna used cords from a mattress to hang himself Monday night and fell into a coma, but Benmouna’s family have expressed skepticism.
They filed a lawsuit Thursday to clarify the circumstances of his death, but asked people to stay calm.
An autopsy Thursday confirmed he died of suffocation and his body showed no traces of violence, said the state prosecutor in Saint-Etienne, the nearest major city.
Pin rejected suggestions of police abuse but said video surveillance equipment that would normally have filmed Benmouna’s cell was not functioning properly.
An inquiry into the case has been opened by the IGPN, the police inspectorate.
Nine people were arrested Wednesday after a night of violence Tuesday evening when Benmouna was still alive but in a coma following the incident.
Reporting by Catherine Legrange; Writing by Sophie Hardach; Editing by Matthew Jones
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