Chirac appeals for calm as suburban riots spread

2nd November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 2 (AFP) - French president Jacques Chirac appealed for calm on Wednesday, warning of a dangerous escalation after riots that have plagued a poor suburb of Paris for almost a week spread to other areas near the capital.

PARIS, Nov 2 (AFP) - French president Jacques Chirac appealed for calm on Wednesday, warning of a dangerous escalation after riots that have plagued a poor suburb of Paris for almost a week spread to other areas near the capital.

"Tempers must calm down. The law must be applied in a spirit of dialogue and respect," Chirac was quoted as saying by a spokesman, in his first public comment since the violence first broke out last Thursday.

"A lack of dialogue and an escalation of disrespectful behaviour would lead to a dangerous situation," Chirac said, according to his spokesman Jean-François Copé.

Gangs of youths in towns around Paris clashed with police and torched cars and trash cans overnight Tuesday, as the unrest that has plagued the poor, high-immigrant suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois since last Thursday spread to other areas.

Dozens of youths have been arrested since the trouble first erupted, sparked by the accidental electrocution of two teenagers whom locals believe were fleeing police.

The violence has gone on unabated despite a pledge by interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy to crack down on the rioters.

In all, more than 80 people have been arrested and two dozen police hurt since the start of the riots last week.

Prime minister Dominique de Villepin delayed a trip to Canada Wednesday to attend a parliamentary session in which he called the violence "extremely serious."

Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy also cancelled a trip next week to Pakistan and Afghanistan to deal with the worsening situation.

The rampages were triggered by the accidental electrocution of two youths, aged 15 and 17, who had scaled an electrical relay station's walls to escape a police identity check in the street.

Since then, tensions -- punctuated by the nighttime confrontations -- have run high in the low-rent, high-immigrant suburbs that surround Paris.

The firing of a police teargas grenade against a mosque in Clichy-sous-Bois during clashes late Sunday also sparked rage in the suburb's large Muslim community.

The grievances have been further fuelled by hardline law-and-order policies implemented by Sarkozy, who is also leader of France's ruling UMP party.

The interior minister has made no secret of his ambition to try to succeed Chirac in 2007 presidential elections.

Just one week before the riots exploded, he promised a "war without mercy" on violence and petty crime in the suburbs.

The opposition Socialist Party criticised Sarkozy's rhetoric, saying: "When an interior minister doesn't hesitate to use insulting terms, branding as 'rabble' communities which have the misfortune to be fragile and wanting to turn water-cannon on them, it is the image of the country that is tarnished."

Observers saw the riots as a sign of the growing divisions in French society -- Muslim immigration, poverty, declining education standards in downtrodden areas and joblessness.

The left-leaning newspaper Libération said successive governments had "broken their noses on the reality of the ghettos, often minimised and often forgotten in their priorities."

But in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper Wednesday, Sarkozy defended his tough policies by saying that some poor suburbs had come under "the rule of gangs, of drugs, of traffickers" and that his measures had brought down crime by eight per cent a year.

"The feeling of exclusion, illegal immigration and the high level of unemployment creates considerable problems," he said, asserting that "firmness, but also justice" was needed.

Suburbs such as Clichy-sous-Bois suffer from unemployment rates over twice the national average, which is already relatively high at around 10 percent.

Tuesday night's violence included less of the direct clashes between youths and police seen on previous nights in Clichy-sous-Bois, police and municipal sources said.

But while that suburb was relatively calm under the presence of several hundred police, outbreaks of trouble in other areas overwhelmed officers.

Cars were torched and police reported sporadic incidents involving groups of youths in Val-d'Oise to the north of the capital and Seine-et-Marne to the southeast with lesser violence reported in Yvelines to the west.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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