PARIS -- A group of skinheads beat a French far-left activist to death in the heart of Paris' shopping district, officials said Thursday, 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 activist was beaten by several skinheads, according to Valls, a widely respected, center-leaning member of President Francois Hollande's Socialist government.

The activist, Clement Meric, was initially hospitalized in grave condition, then died Thursday, said Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office.

Four suspects, aged 20 to 37 and believed to have links to extreme right movements, were arrested, Thibault-Lecuivre said.

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, including the president. Valls 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 leader of the far right, anti-immigration National Front party, Marine Le Pen, tried to distance herself and her party from the violence, saying they shouldn't be lumped together.

Meric was 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, had earlier been declared brain dead. The party, one of several small political movements on France's vocal and active far left, held demonstrations in Paris on Wednesday against violence by groups on the extreme right.

CORRECTION: A previous headline for this story indicated that Meric was a "gay rights activist." Meric was a leftist activist.

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  • Unidentified students react in front of the Institut d'etudes Politiques, also known as Sciences Po, Thursday, June 6, 2013. 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. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

  • Institute of Political Studies(IEP) or Sciences Po President Frederic Mion, right, welcomes Secretary General of France's Socialist Party, Harlem Desir, in front of the Institut d'etudes Politiques, Thursday, June 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

  • Participants gather in front of the Institut d'etudes Politiques, also known as Sciences Po, Thursday, June 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

  • Flowers sit at the site where left-wing activist Clement Meric was allegedly attacked by skinheads on June 6, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

  • People walk past the site where left-wing activist Clement Meric was allegedly attacked by skinheads on June 6, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

  • Flowers sit at the site where left-wing activist Clement Meric was allegedly attacked by skinheads on June 6, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

  • Flowers sit at the site where left-wing activist Clement Meric was allegedly attacked by skinheads on June 6, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

  • Flowers sit at the site where left-wing activist Clement Meric was allegedly attacked by skinheads on June 6, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

  • Left-wing militants pay tribute to Clement Meric who was attacked by skinheads on June 6, 2013 in Paris, France. Meric was reportedly left brain dead after a fight with skinheads thought to be associated with a small far-right group. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

  • Left-wing militants pay tribute to Clement Meric who was attacked by skinheads on June 6, 2013 in Paris, France. Meric was reportedly left brain dead after a fight with skinheads thought to be associated with a small far-right group. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

  • Left-wing militants pay tribute to Clement Meric who was attacked by skinheads on June 6, 2013 in Paris, France. Meric was reportedly left brain dead after a fight with skinheads thought to be associated with a small far-right group. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators raise their fists on June 6, 2013 during a demonstration at Place Saint-Michel in central Paris, after a young far-left activist was killed during a fight with skinheads in central Paris. Clement Meric, an 18-year-old French far-left activist and student at the city's prestigious Sciences-Po university, died on June 6 following the fight, a police source said. Clement Meric had been left brain dead after the violence on June 5. The police source said three men and one woman had been held and that the attacker who is thought to have dealt the fatal blow denied having an intention to kill. (PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators march through the streets of Nantes holding a banner reading, 'Neither forget, nor forgive, justice for Clement, anti-fascist riposte,' on June 6, 2013 after a young far-left activist was killed during a fight with skinheads in central Paris. Clement Meric, an 18-year-old French far-left activist and student at the city's prestigious Sciences-Po university, died on June 6 following the fight, a police source said. Clement Meric had been left brain dead after the violence on June 5. The police source said three men and one woman had been held and that the attacker who is thought to have dealt the fatal blow denied having an intention to kill. (FRANK PERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators wave flags as they gather on June 6, 2013 in the Vieux-Port of Marseille, southern France, after a young far-left activist was killed during a fight with skinheads in central Paris. Clement Meric, an 18-year-old French far-left activist and student at the city's prestigious Sciences-Po university, died on June 6 following the fight, a police source said. Clement Meric had been left brain dead after the violence on June 5. The police source said three men and one woman had been held and that the attacker who is thought to have dealt the fatal blow denied having an intention to kill. (GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators leave flowers near text reading 'Fascists get out of our lives !' as they gather on June 6, 2013, at the spot where a young far-left activist was killed after a fight with skinheads in central Paris, sending shockwaves through the French capital amid concern over the rise of small extreme-right groups. The country's interior minister Manuel Valls condemned the violence, which he said 'bears the marks of the far-right', noting that Clement Meric was 'hit extremely violently by several skinheads' in a fight on June 6, 2013. (JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)