France's presidential election campaign turned into a day of mourning and protest yesterday as tens of thousands of people gathered at the bridge in central Paris from which skinheads threw a Moroccan immigrant to his death on Monday.
Chants of "National Front - assassins" and "No to racism" rose up from the crowd, probably the largest of the campaign so far, as up to 30,000 demonstrators filled the Pont du Carrousel and streets on both banks of the Seine, and spilled into the graceful open spaces outside the Louvre.
Earlier in the day, in a poignant gesture just days before he retires from office, President Franois Mitterrand cast a bouquet of flowers into the Seine and observed a minute's silence at the spot where Brahim Bouarram, 29, was attacked and killed during a National Front march on May Day.
It was one of Mr Mitterrand's few public appearances of the campaign and won applause from Parisians stunned that such a brutal racist murder could take place just a minute's walk from some of France's grandest cultural monuments.
Bouarram's death united the mainstream political left and right in condemning assaults on ethnic minorities, and caused Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin, the Gaullist and Socialist candidates, to play down their efforts to pick up the 15 per cent of the vote that went in the 23 April first round to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front leader.
"The struggle against racism must transcend political parties," said a statement issued from the office of the Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, a pro-Chirac right-winger whose anti-immigration laws the left has linked to racist incidents across France.
The Paris police launched raids on skinhead groups at dawn yesterday, detaining up to 29 people for questioning. Police sources said detectives had already interviewed four witnesses to Bouarram's death, all of whom had seen 10 skinheads break off from the march through central Paris that Mr Le Pen had organised last Monday.
Three of the skinheads, dressed in shiny bomber jackets, were seen making their way to the Quai du Louvre, which adjoins the Pont du Carrousel.
According to the witnesses, one of this trio then seized Bouarram and forced him into the river, where he drowned.
The account of the murder suggested that the skinheads might have known in advance that the Moroccan was often to be found along this stretch of the Seine.
Mr Le Pen has denied any National Front involvement in the murder, saying on Monday night that "this sort of thing can always happen in an urban area of 10 million people".
He suggested Communists disguised as skinheads might have been responsible, a theory shared by virtually no one else.
Unknown until his death, Bouarram, it emerged yesterday, had a wife and two children who live in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, according to a Paris student who knew him well.
His girlfriend, Alice, was quoted in Libration as saying that Bouarram had been unemployed and had just tried to renew his French resident's permit.
"Brahim didn't feel cut out for business and money. He chose to live in the streets four years ago. He used to say there was too much violence and hatred, and he used to talk a lot about the rise of racism. He was getting more and more afraid," his 19-year-old girlfriend said.
Born in southern Morocco in 1965 into a merchant's family, Bouarram arrived in France when he was eight. His uncle and nephew run a grocery in the Paris district of Les Halles.
Bouarram's girlfriend said she had met him before Christmas when the young man, then homeless, entered a caf where she was waitressing and asked for food.
The couple quickly warmed to each other and developed a routine of meeting on the banks of the Seine. It was there that Alice had arranged to meet him on Monday afternoon, but he failed to show up. The next morning, she saw newspaper headlines proclaiming that a group of skinheads had killed Bouarram.
"Brahim was a pacifist. Love was the only thing he believed in. He was incapable of harming a fly," she said.Reuse content