Politicians trade barbs over Paris fire disasters

31st August 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 31 (AFP) - The political fall-out from two fatal house fires in Paris in recent days intensified Wednesday as left and right traded accusations over responsibility for the blazes, in which 24 African immigrants died.

PARIS, Aug 31 (AFP) - The political fall-out from two fatal house fires in Paris in recent days intensified Wednesday as left and right traded accusations over responsibility for the blazes, in which 24 African immigrants died.

The ill-tempered exchanges followed a call by Nicolas Sarkozy -- interior minister in the centre-right government -- for squatters to be forcibly removed from unsafe buildings in order to avoid a repeat of Friday and Monday nights' disasters.

With the Paris police department vowing to move ahead with evacuations in the coming days, the Socialist-controlled city council condemned the initiative -- arguing that without proper planning destitute families would find themselves on the street or in equally dangerous accommodation.

The city completely dissociates itself from evacuation decisions. Our approach is to progressively eliminate risk, and any evacuation must be accompanied by adequate measures to rehouse those affected," said Jean-Yves Mano, deputy mayor in charge of housing policy.

Left-wing pressure groups went further, accusing Sarkozy of demagogy for linking the fires with the problem of illegal immigration.

"Seven Ivorian nationals -- including four children -- were killed in Monday's conflagration in a dilapidated five-storey building in the heart of the expensive Marais district. In Friday's fire near the Austerlitz station, 17 Malians died, 14 of them children.

Four months ago a further 24 people were killed in a fire at a cheap hotel near the Paris opera that was occupied mainly by immigrant African families.

Sarkozy -- a tough-talking hardliner who is also head of the ruling UMP party -- said that "by allowing in people to whom, unfortunately, we are unable to offer either jobs or accommodation, we are now in a situation where we get dramas such as this".

The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP) said the minister was "exploiting these tragedies to legitimise the organisation of round-ups and to serve his cruel policy of massive explusions of immigrants".

Meanwhile two leading UMP members on the Paris city council accused Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë of an "irresponsible and hypocritical attitude" for failing to tackle the problem of unsafe housing.

"Why was this building (in the Marais), which had been declared insalubrious, not put back in a proper condition? Why does the city -- after drawing up a list of 1,000 unsafe buildings -- have such difficulty in eradicating the problem?" the UMP's Philippe Goujon and Claude Goasguen asked in a statement.

The UMP accuses Delanoë's administration of failing to build enough low-cost housing, and of squandering resources on properties in expensive areas of the capital in order to promote its policy of "social mixing".

However the city hall hit back Wednesday, with Mano accusing Goujon and Goasguen of "shameless indecency". According to the Socialists, the problems of rundown properties in Paris first arose under the mayorship of President Jacques Chirac, and it is only now that they are being addressed.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, fires, immigration, Paris housing, squats, Sarkozy, Delanoë, UMP

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