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'Fans' rally for French jeweller who shot thief dead

Photo: AFP

The case of a jeweller charged with murdering a fleeing thief in Nice has become a subject of intense debate in France. While some decried an act of dangerous vigilantism, others have rallied in massive support of a man who could face life in prison.


The case of a jeweller who shot a fleeing thief in the back has unleashed a vivid debate in the French Riviera city of Nice and around the country, with President François Hollande being asked to weigh in on the controversy.

Stephan Turk, 67, has been charged with murder by public prosecutors after he shot dead a youth with an unlicensed semi-automatic pistol on September 11. The 18-year-old thief was fleeing the scene on the back of a scooter with stolen gems when the shopkeeper opened fire.

A second thief who was driving the getaway bike got away.

Turk has been put on house arrest with an ankle-bracelet monitor, following wide outcry for his release from prison. But while he awaits trial, support for the jeweller has grown massively among web users and fellow shopkeepers.

While some commentators warned of a dangerous threat of vigilantism, others said the jeweller had acted in self-defence and applauded a “bold” move against a wave of Riviera robberies that authorities have appeared powerless to counter.

A Facebook page in support of Turk ballooned over the weekend, earning more than 1.5 million “likes”. That figure grew so quickly that it was called into question by some social network experts.

It remained difficult to determine if all the Facebook fans were genuine, and the company refused to divulge the identity of the web page’s anonymous author, but observers said it was difficult to ignore widespread support for the jeweller.

On Monday, Nice shopkeepers planned to shut their businesses at 2pm and rally in support of Turk and their livelihoods.

“We want to call the attention of authorities so that they will protect jewellers, because we are all potential victims,” Jan Arin, president of the region’s jewellers union, told local daily Nice-Matin.

Arin and other organizers said they expected around 1,000 business owners to participate.

Other representatives of shopkeepers who were joining the demonstration used a more cautious tone. “Our objective is that there is no repeat of this drama,” said Philippe Desjardins, president of Nice’s business-owners federation. “To prevent this kind of violent reaction, business owners need to feel protected.”

Politicians join debate

French law allows for killers to escape conviction for murder if they can show they acted in legitimate defence, but prosecutors said it would be difficult for Turk to claim his was an act of survival. Turk risks life in prison if found guilty of murder.

French politicians have been cautious to join the debate, but there have been some noteworthy exceptions.

Christian Estrosi, the staunchly conservative mayor of Nice who faces an election for his job early next year, said Turk was the “first victim” of the tragedy and hailed the court’s decision to place him under house arrest.

French far-right figurehead Jean-Marie Le Pen said “he would have done the same” as Turk, while members of his National Front party came out in public defence of the jeweller.

On Sunday, President François Hollande was forced to wade into the fray.

In a televised interview on French TF1 television, the president said he recognised the “exasperation and anger” in the case but insisted that “it's up to the justice system to do justice, and no one else.”

The French Riviera has seen a series of audacious armed robberies in recent months, notably a record haul of 103 million euros worth of jewels in July from a hotel in Cannes during the celebrated international film festival.

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