Police relieved by calm New Year's celebrations

2nd January 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 1 (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of revellers thronged the famous Champs-Elysees in Paris to greet the New Year overnight, while sporadic arson attacks elsewhere left nervous French authorities hoping to avoid a repeat of last month's full-blown riots.

PARIS, Jan 1 (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of revellers thronged the famous Champs-Elysees in Paris to greet the New Year overnight, while sporadic arson attacks elsewhere left nervous French authorities hoping to avoid a repeat of last month's full-blown riots.

Arson attacks on cars have become a grim New Year's ritual in many rough French neighbourhoods and Saturday night was no exception, with 127 cars torched throughout the country before midnight, slightly up on last year's figures.

The police presence was boosted throughout the country for the New Year celebrations which took place with the country still under a state of emerency imposed after the November violence.

Across the country, 25,000 police and paramilitary gendarmes, including 70 mobile riot police units, were mobilised to keep the peace, the national police department said.

Sales of petrol in jerrycans were banned in the capital over the end-of-year period, as in other parts of the country.

Three weeks of rioting broke out from late October on high-rise estates northeast of Paris following the deaths by electrocution of two local youths who were thought to be fleeing police.

The rioting spread like wildfire through run-down suburbs around France's major cities, fuelled by a sense of social and economic marginalisation among poor French youths of Arab and African descent.

At its height the urban violence, the worst in France in 40 years, spread to some 300 towns, with arson attacks on 10,000 cars and 200 public buildings.

More than 5,000 people were arrested in connection with the violence and more than 400 sent to jail.

Fears of more trouble on New Year's Eve were the main reason given by the government for extending until February 21 a state of emergency, which allows the imposition of local curfews and gives wider powers to police.

Invoked at first to declare curfews in some 30 towns, which were later lifted, the emergency measures have scarcely been used since.

Though braced for more trouble, intelligence officials, mayors and social workers quoted by the French press agreed that tensions in most city suburbs had fallen greatly since the explosion.

An intelligence official quoted by Le Figaro newspaper said there were "no warning signs of an escalation" for Saturday night, based on police monitoring of blogs and text messages circulating among suburban youths.

Officials were also hoping that the bitter cold snap gripping France would help keep potential troublemakers off the streets.

Levels of street violence this weekend will be seen as an important test of the government's authority — but also of recent employment and education measures taken in favour of deprived riot-hit areas.

Any violence will also have to be measured against that of previous years — some 330 cars were torched across France last December 31, and 379 the year before, with the eastern city of Strasbourg often the worst-hit.

The revellers on the Champs-Elysées could nonetheless enjoy the spectacle of the famous street illuminated from the Arc de Triomphe to Concorde place, accompanied by hugs, kisses, firecrackers and photo-taking.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 

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