PARIS (AP) — A group of skinheads attacked a French far-left activist in the heart of Paris' shopping district, leaving the young man brain-dead in the hospital Thursday, officials said, in an attack that raised fears of increased far-right violence.
Political tensions are high in France after months of protests against legalizing gay marriage that sometimes ended with troublemakers from the extreme right clashing with police.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls said a fight broke out Wednesday evening between two groups of young people in a pedestrian street just steps away from the famous Printemps department store. At one point, the 19-year-old leftist was beaten by several skinheads, according to Valls, a widely respected, center-leaning member of President Francois Hollande's Socialist government.
Four suspects, aged 20 to 37, were arrested on Thursday, according to Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office.
It was unclear how the fight developed and how many people were involved in the attack on a crowded street with cafes and chain stores.
Politicians from left and right lashed out at the violence, as did Valls, who focused his anger at the skinheads.
"There is no place for small neo-Nazi groups whose enemy is the nation," he said. "A group of the extreme right is at the heart of this ... There is a discourse of hate and a climate that favors this discourse. We need to pay attention to this, because they threaten our values."
The victim, Clement Meric, is a student at Sciences Po, one of France's most prestigious universities, according to the school.
The Party of the Left said Meric, one of its activists, was declared brain dead. The party, one of several small political movements on France's vocal and active far left, called for demonstrations in Paris on Wednesday against violence by groups on the extreme right.