Questions mount as body found of Frenchman missing since music festival

Fanny ANDRE
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Steve Canico's body was recovered from the Loire river more than a month after he disappeared during a police operation at a music festival

A body found in the River Loire belongs to a young man who disappeared over a month ago during a police raid on a music festival, French investigators said Tuesday, putting pressure on the authorities to shed light on how he died.

Steve Maia Canico, 24, went missing on the night of June 21-22 after officers in the western city of Nantes moved in to disperse techno music fans attending a free concert as part of France's national music celebration day.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Tuesday that a police investigation found no evidence of a link between the intervention of security forces and Canico's disappearance, but acknowledged that numerous questions remained over how the event was handled.

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

- 'Where is Steve?' -

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

Eyewitnesses said that they were blinded by the tear gas used by the police.

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 Canico.

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

Posters and murals asking "Where is Steve?" had appeared around Nantes, and 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 drapped a large banner with "Steve" written on the front around a fountain in central Nantes and made it spout fake blood.

Footage posted on social media showed scenes of chaos as officers carrying batons and firing tear gas moved in on the revellers by the river.

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

His 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 have insisted that no charge was launched on the participants and also say that 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 Canico.

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.

Local authorities have been criticised for allowing the event to go ahead at a riverside venue without sufficient barriers.

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, member of a local Nantes support group set up after Canico'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.