Thousands of supporters marched in grief and anger on Saturday to honor an anti-fascist activist who died after a brawl with far-right militants, as authorities opened a manslaughter probe against a 20-year-old man suspected of delivering the fatal blow.
France’s Socialist government also took a first step toward banning a far-right group that the suspect and four alleged accomplices had claimed ties with, the Paris prosecutor said.
The death of 18-year-old Clement Meric, a student at Paris’ prestigious Sciences-Po political science university, has renewed concerns that far-right groups are on the rise in France and across Europe.
A medical examiner determined that Meric died from head trauma sustained in the fight that erupted after a chance encounter on Wednesday between the far-right militants and anti-fascist activists, including Meric, in an upscale Paris shopping district, prosecutor Francois Molins said at a news conference.
He said he had sought a murder investigation concerning one suspect — a security guard who was identified only as Esteban — and charges of group violence against Esteban and three other men over the fight that led to Meric’s death.
However, late on Saturday, an investigating judge rejected Molins’ effort to pursue a murder investigation, and instead filed preliminary charges against Esteban for “deadly blows” — which amounts to violence leading to death without intention to kill, prosecutors’ office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said.
If convicted Esteban faces up to 15 years in prison.
A fifth suspect, a 32-year-old woman named Katya, was handed preliminary charges for complicity in group violence, she said.
Molins said the suspects acknowledged links to an ultranationalist group known as “Troisieme Voie” — or Third Way, Molins said. None of the suspects had a prior criminal record, though Esteban was known to police for possession of banned weapons in Paris in May 2011, he said.
Militant extreme-right groups have become increasingly visible in France, and the government said after Meric’s death that it wants to ban them. Extreme-right groups have gained attention in numerous European countries, particularly Greece, where the Golden Dawn party, broadly vilified for alleged Nazi sympathies and violence against immigrants, holds seats in parliament. Last month, the World Jewish Congress said it is greatly concerned about what it called neo-Nazi parties in places like Greece, Hungary and Germany.
On Saturday, demonstrators poured into the streets of eastern Paris to honor Meric, chanting: “We don’t forgive, we don’t forget” and marching behind a banner that said he was “forever in our memories, forever in our hearts.”
The fatal fight erupted outside a clothing store where members of the two groups had run into each other by chance, Molins said, citing witness accounts and testimony by the suspects during police questioning. The suspects said they had responded to alleged provocation by a small group that included Meric, he said.