Sarkozy rides back 'to rid France of hoodlums'

3rd June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 3 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy marked his return to government on Friday with a trip to the southern city of Perpignan, where tensions between the Arab and Gypsy communities have led to violence.

PARIS, June 3 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy marked his return to government on Friday with a trip to the southern city of Perpignan, where tensions between the Arab and Gypsy communities have led to violence.  

"I'm here to do a job and my job is to rid France of hoodlums," Sarkozy told reporters. "And I'm not going to hold back."  

Sarkozy, who built up his nationwide reputation as interior minister from 2002 to 2004, has returned to the post in the new government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. He is also Villepin's powerful number two.  

The 50-year-old Sarkozy, who is seen as a rival of both President Jacques Chirac and Villepin, also remains head of the ruling centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party.  

For his first trip outside Paris since his nomination, he chose Perpignan, where tensions between the Arab and Gypsy communities have reached the boiling point following the murders of two North African men.  

Trouble had been brewing since May 22, when 28-year-old Mohamed Bey-Bachir was beaten to death, allegedly by a group of Gypsies. A week later, 43-year-old Driss Ghaib was killed by unidentified assailants in a drive-by shooting.  

Violent clashes broke out between around 400 members of the north African community and police in Perpignan shortly after the second killing, during which gunshots were fired at police.  

The police responded by firing tear gas and using baton charges to disperse the angry crowds, an AFP reporter at the scene said. A total of 50 cars were burned during the unrest and many shop windows were smashed.  

"The state will assume its responsibilities. Shop owners will be compensated," Sarkozy said.  

"I will not accept any more, I'll ship them straight off to prison," he added.  

"There will be zero tolerance from now on" for intracommunal violence, the interior minister told AFP in his plane en route to Perpignan.  

He later met with representatives of both communities in a bid to defuse the violence.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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