Seven days and counting: the Paris suburb riots

3rd November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 3 (AFP) - French authorities found themselves powerless Thursday to stop a wave of violence in impoverished suburbs around Paris which has raged for a week, spreading to more and more neighbourhoods.

PARIS, Nov 3 (AFP) - French authorities found themselves powerless Thursday to stop a wave of violence in impoverished suburbs around Paris which has raged for a week, spreading to more and more neighbourhoods.

Police wielding shields and teargas grenades overnight battled stone- and bottle-throwing youths in at least nine towns to the north, east and west of the French capital.

In one suburb, La Courneuve, two shots were fired at officers but did not cause injury, police said.

In another, Aulnay-sous-Bois, a police station was briefly taken over and ransacked by youths while a gymnasium and a Renault garage were set ablaze and a shopping centre vandalised.

All of the areas are high-immigrant zones dominated by depressing public housing estates, where crime and gangs run rampant.

At least 40 vehicles, including two buses, were torched, and two primary schools were damaged, according to police, who made more than a dozen arrests.

A French television crew were forced by hooded youths to abandon their car, which was then set ablaze by a 40-strong mob.

It was the seventh straight night of riots. As with the previous violence, calm returned before dawn, leaving a mess of burnt-out cars and smashed windows -- and also recriminations about the government's law-and-order and social policies.

The violence was sparked a week ago by the accidental electrocution of two teenagers who had hid in an electrical sub-station to escape a police identity check in the suburb at the epicentre of the troubles, Clichy-sous-Bois.

Since then, rioters have defied tough police tactics implemented by interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who vowed earlier this month to wage a "war without mercy" on the "rabble" who inhabit the downtrodden suburbs.

President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday appealed for calm, warning that "an escalation of disrespectful behaviour would lead to a dangerous situation."

Both prime minister Dominique de Villepin and Sarkozy cancelled overseas trips to tackle the growing threat to public order.

Villepin told parliament that the government would "ensure public order and will do so with the necessary firmness", and said he was counting on Sarkozy to "take the necessary measures".

The interior minister, whose open ambition to run for president in 2007 had been boosted by a decline in crime and delinquency on his watch, visited police in one of the embattled suburbs, Bobigny, overnight.

One officer told him that "two real bullets were fired" at riot police in La Courneuve but did not hit their targets. The riot squads themselves were using rubber bullets when they felt threatened by advancing mobs.

Some 1,000 officers were deployed in the Seine-Saint-Denis region that encompasses Bobigny, Clichy-sous-Bois and most of the other suburbs caught up in the troubles.

In Clichy-sous-Bois, anger continued to run high over the death of the twp youths, Banou, a 15-year-old of Malian background, and Ziad, a 17-year-old of Tunisian origin, and over a police teargas grenade which hit a mosque during clashes Sunday night.

However, Wednesday night saw the area's streets calmer compared to other neighbourhoods.

An AFP reporter saw a car and several trash cans set alight there, but there were fewer police deployed in what the local mayor, Claude Dilain, said was an effort to be "much less of a provocation".

But youths told AFP they planned to keep up their defiance.

"We have found our thrills: playing with riot police in the evening," said one 22-year-old who declined to give his name.

"As long as the police come and provoke us in the evening, we'll bring out the Molotov cocktails, stones, petanque balls, planks," he said.

According to official figures, France has 751 neighbourhoods classified as severely disadvantaged, housing a total of five million people, around eight percent of the country's population.

Conditions are often dire with grim high-rise housing, unemployment running at twice the national rate of 10 percent and a yearly per capita income of EUR 10,500 euros, 40 percent less than the national average.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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