Crowds jeered France’s leaders at a tribute yesterday to victims of last week’s truck attack in Nice and an opinion poll showed a sharp drop in confidence in the ability of President Francois Hollande’s government to combat terrorism.
Before and after a minute of silence held to pay respects to the 84 dead, many of the thousands gathered in the south-coast resort city of Nice chanted “resign, resign” at Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister. Others yelled “Hollande, resign”.
The poll published in Le Figaro newspaper showed 33 percent of respondents were confident in national leaders’ ability to fight terrorism, down sharply from confidence levels of at least 50 percent in the wake of two major attacks last year.
“The government promises us things but nothing sticks,” Nice city resident Antony Fernandez told Reuters. “What have they done up to now to make us feel safe? And yet what do we expect? Every six months we’re going to mourn more dead?”
Less than a year before a presidential election, political opponents have abandoned the restraint that usually prevails immediately after such national tragedies to sharply criticise Hollande and his government.
Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is competing in a November primary for the ticket to run as presidential candidate for France’s mainstream centre-right parties, said overnight that Hollande’s government had failed to do all it could.
“I know there's no zero risk, I know perfectly well that we don’t pull each other apart before the victims have even been buried,” Sarkozy told TF1 TV.
“But I want to say, because it’s the truth, that everything that should have been done over the last 18 months... wasn’t done,” he said, without proposing what could have been done better.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls dismissed those suggestions.
He told a news conference that plans to extend the state of emergency this week would give police renewed powers to conduct searches without getting judicial warrants and include new measures to exploit information from telephones and computers.
In Thursday’s attack, delivery man Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a 19-tonne truck into crowds of Bastille Day revellers, killing 84, before being shot dead by police. The third major attack on France in less than two years has plunged the country back into a state of grief and fear.
Politics under scrutiny
The rapid and bitter political recriminations contrasted with the restraint seen in the immediate wake of the attacks on Paris last November and on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in January 2015. Like them, the Nice attack was claimed by Islamic State although no hard evidence linking Bouhlel to the militant group has been found.
The government has struck back by denouncing opponents for breaking ranks so fast.
Speaking ahead of the nationwide minute-of-silence yesterday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve accused the government’s opponents of unseemly behaviour.
“We’ve seen tirades emerge immediately and personally this is both shocking and sad ... it’s undignified in the current context,” he said.
Voters also denounced the lack of restraint among competing politicians while many of those killed in Thursday’s attack on the seafront Promenade des Anglais boulevard have still to be identified or buried.
“I’d have liked the politicians to have the decency when the bodies were still on the Promenade not to start saying, it’s so-and-so’s fault,” said Stephane Bebert, who was at the ceremony.
As tributes drew throngs of people back to the scene of the carnage, police continued to investigate. Four of the six people arrested after the attack were transferred early yesterday to the headquarters of France’s counter-terrorism department in the western edge of Paris, where they will be questioned.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, who is in charge of the investigation, said the attack was premeditated.
From July 1, Bouhlel had made internet searches for festivities in Nice and had driven the route of the attack two days prior to Bastille Day.
Molins said the killer had recently developed an interest in radical Islam, telling people he had grown a beard for religious reasons and that he could not understand why Islamic State could not have its own territory.
On June 28 had tried to get a 5,000-euro bank loan, which he was denied.
Bouhlel had also carried out daily searches from the start of July of jihadist propaganda websites showing violent images.
“While there are no elements in the investigation to suggest at this stage an allegiance to Islamic State nor links with individuals from the group... he (Bouhlel) showed a certain recent interest in radical jihadist movements,” Molins said.