PARIS: A young far left activist has been left brain dead after a fight with skinheads in central Paris in an incident that has sent shockwaves through the French capital.
The country’s interior minister Manuel Valls condemned the violence, which he said “bears the marks of the far-right”, noting that Clement Meric was “hit extremely violently by several skinheads” in a fight on Wednesday.
Reports diverge on what sparked the fight outside a shop near the St Lazare train station, but 18-year-old Meric has been left brain dead in hospital.
According to a preliminary police inquiry, a group of young “skinhead types” found themselves in a shop with another group that included Meric, sparking a wave of insults and jostling.
The skinheads then left the shop and waited for the group outside with other people, and the victim “was hit by one of the skinheads who wore a knuckleduster and fell on the pavement, hitting a bollard.”
A police source said the victim was involved in the “extreme left anti-fascist movement.”
One witness who wished to remain anonymous told AFP she was leaving work when she saw the tail-end of the fight.
“Lots of people were running in every direction and as the young people with shaved heads looked like they were leaving, they came back and suddenly a punch was thrown and the young man fell against the bollard,” she said.
“Afterwards, I looked after the victim who had blood flowing from his ear and nose.”
Left wing activists said the skinheads were part of the extreme right Revolutionary Nationalist Youth (JNR) group.
But Serge Ayoub, the leader of the JNR nicknamed “Batskin”, said his group was not involved in the incident, adding that the fight was initiated by far left activists.
The violence in the heart of a popular shopping district of Paris has shocked the city and politicians on either side of the spectrum.
Marine Le Pen, head of the far right National Front, said her party had “no link” with the “horrendous” incident.
Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist candidate in next year’s Paris mayoral race, condemned a “despicable act”, while France’s upper house Senate called it a “horrendous assassination.”
Left-wing parties — including France’s ruling Socialists — have called for people to rally in Paris early on Thursday evening for “the dissolution of ultra violent far right groups”.
On Twitter, the incident was one of the most talked about topics in France.