NICE, France (Reuters) – France’s new interior minister sought on Thursday to project a tougher stance on security after a shooting this week in a suburb of the Riviera city of Nice, saying the country would not bow to criminal violence.
Gerald Darmanin, a close ally of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was appointed by President Emmanuel Macron in a government reshuffle this month as the French leader sought to show he is tackling law and order.
The minister traveled to Nice on Thursday to visit the Moulins district, where on Monday drug gangs clashed in broad daylight outside a supermarket, firing assault weapons after police arrests and a major drugs haul a week earlier.
“Those who want to make the Republic bow down will pay the price,” Darmanin told reporters, echoing a similar response by Sarkozy when he was interior minister almost 15 years ago.
Since taking office, Darmanin has repeatedly defended police action and has rushed to the scene of several criminal incidents.
Macron, who faces a presidential election in less than two years, has been criticised by opponents over crime and public safety since he took power in 2017 and opinion polls show that the public see his government as weakest on those issues.
Prime Minister Jean Castex, who will also go to Nice at the weekend, promised concrete measures after what he called “unacceptable” acts.
Some areas around some of France’s biggest cities have become no-go zones for police after dark, officials, politicians and experts have said. Drugs and arms trafficking as well as prostitution blight many housing estates, officials and analysts have said.
A spate of public safety incidents since the end of the COVID-19 lockdown in mid-May has put the government on heightened alert for crime rising amid the economic fallout from the pandemic.
Perceived government weakness on this could benefit the far-right National Rally, which is seen by supporters as tougher on such issues.
(Writing by John Irish; Editing by Frances Kerry)