Candidates clash over railway station riot

29th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 28, 2007 (AFP) - The leading candidates in France's presidential campaign traded accusations Wednesday following hours of clashes the evening before between police and young rioters at one of Paris's biggest railway stations.

PARIS, March 28, 2007 (AFP) - The leading candidates in France's presidential campaign traded accusations Wednesday following hours of clashes the evening before between police and young rioters at one of Paris's biggest railway stations.

Socialist challenger Segolene Royal and the centrist Francois Bayrou both charged the ruling centre-right -- and its candidate Nicolas Sarkozy -- with creating a climate of hostility between police and youngsters from the high-immigration suburbs.

In scenes reminiscent of the three weeks of rioting that shook France in November 2005, 13 people were arrested at the Gare du Nord in seven hours of confrontations triggered by an attempt to detain a fare-dodger.

Nine appeared in court on Wednesday, including the fare-dodger who is charged with assaulting railway officials.

Commuters cowered in dismay as groups of young people threw projectiles at police, smashing shop-windows and advertising hoardings. A sports-shoe shop was looted. Police responded with tear-gas and baton charges, and calm was not restored till after midnight.

"We've got to this situation because for a long time the police has been used exclusively as a force for repression -- ever since the arrival of Nicolas Sarkozy at the interior ministry," said Bayrou.

Sarkozy stepped down on Monday from the post of interior minister, which he held for four out of the last five years.

"Of course travellers should pay for their tickets. But when a simple ticket check degenerates into such violent confrontations it proves that something isn't right," said Royal.

"After five years of a right-wing government which made law and order its campaign theme, we can see the failure. People are pitted against each other, they are afraid of each other," she said.

Far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen said the violence "proved the frailty of the so-called politics of security" of Sarkozy, and was a direct consequence of French immigration policies of the past 30 years.

But Sarkozy -- who was at the Gare du Nord Wednesday morning to catch a train to Lille -- praised the actions of the police.

"If Madame Royal wants to regularise all illegal immigrants and if the left wants to side with people who don't pay for their train tickets, that's their choice. It is not mine," Sarkozy said.

"I will not side with the cheats, the fraudsters, the dishonest. I am on the side of the victims," he said.

Sarkozy's replacement as interior minister Francois Baroin also condemned the rioters, saying that "nothing can justify what happened yesterday evening at the Gare du Nord."

"A perfectly normal ticket check degenerated into urban guerrilla warfare, into unacceptable, intolerable violence. We live in a state of law and of freedom -- but there is no freedom without rules," he said.

Royal, Sarkozy and Bayrou are the frontrunners in the two-round presidential election that takes place on April 22 and May 6.

Sarkozy is widely hated by young people in the city suburbs where he is accused of introducing tough police methods and instigating the 2005 riots. Widely-reported remarks in which he called delinquents "rabble" and promised to clean out criminal gangs with a "power-hose" have damaged his image.

In Tuesday evening's incidents many of the young rioters chanted obscene slogans naming Sarkozy.

The trouble began when officials from the metro operator RATP stopped a 33-year-old man who had jumped over a turnstile to avoid paying. They say the man reacted violently and police were called. However some witnesses said his arrest was carried out with unnecessary force.

Crowds of young people then gathered in the underground section of the Gare du Nord, which is a major rail hub for the Paris suburbs as well as an international terminus.

A spokesman for the police union Alliance said that hostility to the police is increasingly widespread in France. "The principle of intervening when other people are arrested is becoming general. There is an instinct to challenge everything in uniform," said Dominique Achispon.

The rioters had no known link to the arrested man, who according to Baroin is an illegal immigrant with a long police record.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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