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French PM promises answers over alleged police role in death of 'Steve'

Mehdi Fedouach / AFP | A woman holds a placard reading "Truth and justice for Steve" as activists gather to pay a tribute on July 30, 2019, in Bordeaux, southwestern France

French authorities are under increasing pressure to shed light on the death of Steve Caniço, 24, after police firing tear gas sent concert-goers scattering into the Loire River during a music festival on June 21.


Steve Caniço went missing on the night of June 21 after police moved in to disperse techno music fans who were attending a free concert in the western city of Nantes as part of the Fête de la musique, France's annual live music festival.

Pierre Sennes, the public prosecutor for Nantes, said Tuesday that Caniço's body had been found in the Loire River, adding that further tests were required to determine the cause of his death.

Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said that a police investigation had found no evidence of a link between the actions of security forces and Caniço's disappearance, but he acknowledged that numerous questions remained over how the event was handled.

"More than five weeks afterwards, what happened that night remains unclear and I am not satisfied," Philippe said after a meeting with Interior Minister Christophe Castaner in Paris.

Posters and murals asking "Where is Steve?" had appeared around Nantes and beyond. On July 20, hundreds of protesters formed a human chain along the Loire to observe a minute's silence for the missing man.

Supporters on Tuesday draped a large banner with "Steve" written on the front around a fountain in central Nantes and made it spout fake blood.

Police tactics raise questions

More than a dozen concertgoers fell into the nearby Loire River during clashes with police, prompting accusations that officers used excessive force in trying to shut the party down.

Eyewitnesses said that they were blinded by the tear gas.

Caniço's friends, who said he did not know how to swim, feared he had been swept away in the confusion.

An autopsy carried out Tuesday morning on the badly decomposed corpse that was found not far from the concert site on Monday confirmed it was Caniço.

Amid growing public anger, prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into possible manslaughter.

Caniço's disappearance drew fierce criticism over the tactics used by police, already under fire for heavy-handed interventions during the weekly "Yellow Vest" anti-government protests that erupted last November.

The police insist that they did not charge the music festival and said officers were being targeted by people throwing various objects.

'We will not let this go'

Philippe revealed that an inquiry by the General Inspectorate of the Police (IGPN), which investigates police conduct, did "not establish a link between the intervention of the police and the disappearance" of Caniço.

But he said the IGPN report did point to "difficulties" in the police intervention due to the projectiles thrown at the security forces, who fired tear gas in response.

He said there were also questions over the choice of the riverside venue given the risk of falling into the water, and over whether the police present were adequately prepared in the case of disorder.

Online response has been swift: Soon after the findings were announced, French social media lit up with satirical declarations posted under the hashtag #SelonLeIGPN ("According to the IGPN").

A second Twitter hashtag, #JusticePourSteve (Justice for Steve) has also been trending.

Social media had already played a role in the affair, with footage posted showing chaotic scenes as officers carrying batons and firing tear gas moved in on the revellers by the river.

Philippe said he had ordered the interior ministry's own investigative body, the IGA, to open an inquiry "to go deeper and understand how the event was organised".

"What we need are truth and justice," said prominent French green MEP Yannick Jadot.

"All the circumstances should be quickly brought to light," added the socialist mayor of Nantes, Johanna Rolland. "It is essential for all of us in Nantes and beyond our city in all of France."

"We will use our anger for actions, so justice is done, and we will go all the way," said Eric Sagot, a member of a local Nantes support group set up after Caniço's disappearance.

"A young man aged 24 drowned at the music festival and we will not let this go, and we will fight so that justice is done," he said.

Search for answers in Frenchman's tragic drowning

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and Reuters)

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