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The rally called for justice over the 2016 death of a black man in a police custody that some have likened to the death of George Floyd in the US. Police fired use tear gas after some of the protesters started fires and set up barricades around the Avenue de Clichy in northern Paris, which was littered with rubbish and broken glass.
Around 20,000 people rallied in demonstration in memory of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black Frenchman who died in a 2016 police operation, despite a police ban imposed because of the risk of disorder and the danger of spreading the coronavirus.
The demonstration coincides with US protests in response to the May 25 killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes.
Protestors held up banners with slogans in English reading “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe”.
Mr Traore’s family blamed excessive force during his arrest, when he was pinned down by three gendarmes.
Successive pathology reports have reached conflicting conclusions over whether his death two hours later resulted from asphyxiation or other factors including pre-existing conditions.
Mr Traore’s sister Assa spoke to a large crowd at the protest saying: “Today we are not just talking about the fight of the Traore family.
“It is the fight for everyone. When we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traore.
“What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France.”
She said both her brother and Mr Floyd had used the same last words: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”.
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Some protesters burned scooters, bicycles and bins to set up flaming barricades on the streets.
Fireworks were also thrown at police after Didier Lallement, the Paris police prefect, ordering protests not to go ahead because coronavirus restrictions forbid any gathering of more than 10 people in demonstrations.
He said police in Paris were “neither violent nor racist”.
Interior minister Christophe Castaner hit out against the protests saying “violence has no place in a democracy”.
He tweeted: “Nothing justifies the behaviour that took place in Paris this evening, when protests on public streets are banned to protect everyone’s health.”
Mr Traore led police on a 15-minute chase back in 2016 after a dispute over an identity check.
The 24-year-old was apprehended in a house and one of the three arresting officers told investigators they pinned him down with their combined bodyweight.
Mr Traore lost consciousness in the police vehicle and died at a nearby police station.
When paramedics arrived he was still handcuffed.
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