PARIS – Tensions in France, already high hours before a new national lockdown, escalated after a terrorist attack in the southern city of Nice on Thursday morning.
Three people were killed in an incident that took place inside the Notre Dame basilica, according to Christian Estrosi, the mayor of Nice.
The suspect was shot but remains alive, according to news reports.
The occurrence, which included a beheading by an extreme Islamist, came 13 days after a teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded in a Paris suburb in another terrorist attack. The suspect in that incident said he was angered Paty had shown cartoons of Muhammad to a class.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron subsequently said the country “will not give up caricatures, drawings,” referring to the recently reissued cartoons of Muhammad by the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. They were the same drawings that sparked anger in numerous countries and al-Qaeda, which claimed the January 2015 terrorist attack at the newspaper in which 12 people were killed.
The Islamic tradition forbids depictions of Muhammad and Allah.
Macron has been vocal about promising to defend secular values and fight radical Islam after Paty’s murder.
In recent days, there have been demonstrations and calls in some parts of the Islamic world to boycott French products, with some Arab trade groups starting to remove French products from their shelves. The agri-food, cosmetics and luxury industries are expected to be the hardest hit.
On Monday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requested that the Turkish people boycott French products and said Macron is perpetrating an “anti-Islam” agenda. Erdogan has repeatedly suggested France’s president needs a mental health check.
The incident in Nice on Thursday came less than one day before France will return to a countrywide lockdown at midnight, which will last until at least Dec. 1. Stores were gearing up for the holiday season, with Le Bon Marché slated to unveil its Christmas windows this week.
Macron explained during a televised address to the nation on Wednesday night that the decision was taken after an uncontrollable surge in the number of new coronavirus cases.
Although the new lockdown will be looser than the previous one in March and April, with many schools to remain open and factories operational, non-essential stores will shutter. Those include clothing and shoe stores, hairdressers, commercial centers and beauty institutes.
“If within two weeks we have better control of the situation, we can hope to reopen certain businesses,” Macron noted during his speech.
There was an outcry on Friday, however.
Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, president of MEDEF, the primary union of French employers, called the closure of stores “an error” during an interview on Europe 1 TV channel. De Bézieux said behind stores are 3 million employees who risk going bankrupt. “I know that there will be [government] aid announced this afternoon, but at a point the support isn’t enough,” he said.
The executive suggested that talks with the government begin quickly.
The French federation of beauty companies, or FEBEA, said in a statement Friday: “Following the statements by the President of the Republic, the FEBEA regrets that points of sale such as perfumeries, drugstores, hairdressing salons and beauty institutes have not been designated among the businesses that can remain open.
“The federation has informed the government that it wishes these business to be able to maintain their activity now and through the confinement,” the statement said.
“All the businesses are essentially very small and have already been considerably weakened by the first lockdown,” Patrick O’Quin, FEBEA president, said in the statement.
Such activities’ sales, before the announcement of a new lockdown, were expected to be down in 2020 on-year by 25 percent.
“Keeping those local shops open is a condition for survival, especially as they have made considerable efforts to welcome their customers in perfectly [safe] conditions,” he said.
A general confinement equates to a loss of 2.5 points of France’s gross domestic product per month, according to Olivier Dussopt, the country’s Secretary of State to the Ministry of Public Action and Accounts, during an interview on Sud Radio on Wednesday morning.
Prior to this second lockdown, it was expected France’s growth would be down 10 percent for 2020 and up 8 percent for 2021.
Consumer sentiment in the country had declined slightly in October, by one point to 94, making it on the same level as in July and August, according to France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, or L’Insee.
“In October, households were less optimistic about their future financial situation: The corresponding balance lost three points and fell back below its longterm average,” L’Insee wrote in a statement. “In addition, the proportion of households considering it appropriate to make purchases is stable.”
Other European countries have recently tightened restrictions due to the rise of COVID-19 cases, too. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday announced a partial lockdown of the country between Nov. 2 and 30, for instance.
And earlier this month Ireland went back into a lockdown that was expected to last six weeks.