In Paris suburbs, voters want to turn the page on riots

22nd April 2007, Comments 0 comments

ARGENTEUIL, France, April 22, 2007 (AFP) - Voters in rundown Paris suburbs on Sunday came out in large numbers to cast ballots, hoping the new president will tackle the problems that led to nationwide riots 18 months ago.

ARGENTEUIL, France, April 22, 2007 (AFP) - Voters in rundown Paris suburbs on Sunday came out in large numbers to cast ballots, hoping the new president will tackle the problems that led to nationwide riots 18 months ago.

Under a warm spring sun, residents of Arab and African origin queued alongside working-class French in a large gymnasium in Argenteuil to vote in the first round of an election to pick a successor to Jacques Chirac.

"As you can see, I am not the average European type but I feel completely French and it's important for me to vote," said Wayba Kheshiba, 37, born in France to Algerian parents.

Like many residents, pushing baby prams, playing football in a nearby field or strolling along pathways in the middle of grimy high-rise buildings, Kheshiba sees frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy as a "change for the worse."

"There are many here who are going to be angry," if Sarkozy wins, said Kheshiba, who expects a flareup of riots if the rightwinger wins the two-round election being held Sunday and on May 6.

"France has changed. It is made up of different people and it should build itself up from all of these differences," said Kheshiba, who voted for Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate who wants to become France's first woman president.

Samir, a 40-year-old worker of Turkish origin, also voted for Royal, saying that as interior minister Sarkozy had introduced tougher policing methods that had left the suburbs feeling like they were under siege.

"Madame Royal will bring in more work, more liberty. Under Sarkozy, people were pushed and pushed, they had no freedom," said Samir, who did not want to give his surname.

It was in Argenteuil, located on the northwest edge of Paris, that Sarkozy called young troublemakers "racaille," or rabble, in 2005. The description made the former interior minister an enemy of the high-immigrant suburbs.

Critics have accused Sarkozy of inflaming tensions in the poor towns ringing France's major cities that exploded into three weeks of violence in October and November 2005, the nation's worst civilian unrest in decades.

Some 10,000 cars were torched and hundreds of buildings burned during the riots, and residents say the tensions that erupted into violence remain latent.

But for Abderrahmane Seghir, 67, who emigrated to France when he was 22, a Sarkozy presidency is not a source of worry.

"You must respect the laws and respect authority. For those who don't, it's a problem," said Seghir, echoing Sarkozy's tough stance on law and order.

Voting was brisk at the polling stations, with elections officer Claudine Billiet looking with surprise at the 20 to 30 residents queueing in front of the three voting stations set up in the gymnasium.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Billiet.

In the flashpoint suburb of Clichy sous Bois, where the death of two teenage boys who had found refuge in an electrical station while fleeing police sparked the rioting in October 2005, turnout was also high.

Twenty-five year-old Ziad said he had not voted in the last election in 2002, but had this time cast a ballot for centrist Francois Bayrou, the surprise "third man" in the polls.

"Segolene, I just don't see her as president, Sarkozy, he's scary, so Bayrou was left," said Ziad.

Grassroots organisations in the suburbs had seized on the election season to call on residents to vote and ensure that the problems of the suburbs come to the fore.

Student Myriam Diedhiou, who at 18 was voting for the first time, said Sarkozy "had good ideas but he is too aggressive" and voted instead for Royal.

"For the youth, Sarkozy is an enemy, but for older people who feel vulnerable, there are many who will vote for him," said Diedhiou, whose parents emigrated to France from Senegal.

All of the candidates have made a trip to the suburbs a necessary stop on the campaign trail, but Sarkozy has mostly stayed away, meeting recently with 100 people in a Paris suburb, under close police watch.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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