Villepin says 'unrest' didn't count as 'riots'

30th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 29 (AFP) - Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin made a stab at salvaging France's beleaguered image overseas on Tuesday, in a US television interview focused on the outbreak of urban violence in the country.

PARIS, Nov 29 (AFP) - Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin made a stab at salvaging France's beleaguered image overseas on Tuesday, in a US television interview focused on the outbreak of urban violence in the country.

Villepin told the US television network CNN that the wave of unrest in French suburbs this month could not be described as "riots", and that it was not rooted in ethnic or religious divisions.

While admitting that there had been "severe social unrest", Villepin said the violence was on a far smaller scale than during the Los Angeles riots, in which 54 people died and some 2,000 were wounded.

"I'm not sure you can call them riots. It's very different from the situation you have known in 1992 in LA for example," the prime minister said in the English-language interview. "In France during the two-week period of unrest, nobody died. So I think you can't compare this social unrest with any kind of riots."

However, in the aftermath of the unrest, officials reported a French high-school caretaker died of heart failure following an arson attack on his school in a western Paris suburb.

The violence resulted in more than 9,000 cars being burned and more than 100 public buildings set alight. But Villepin stressed that "there were no guns in the streets."

"No adults; mostly young people between 12 and 20... so it's a very special movement," said the prime minister, who repeated the government's pledge to improve education and job prospects for youths in France's poor suburbs.

Acknowledging that successive governments had done too little for these areas in recent decades, Villepin also said it was "important to understand the real nature of these movements."

"There is no ethnic or religious basis to this movement, as we see in other parts of the world," he insisted.

Young people of immigrant background "don't want to be recognised as Muslims, or as blacks, or as people coming from north Africa. They want to be recognised as French and they want to have equal opportunity during their lives.

"So it is our goal now to answer their demands," Villepin said, acknowledging that there was a "feeling of discrimination" among many young people of immigrant background, as well as a certain loss of identity.

"Very often you have people coming from the second generation of immigration, they don't know their country of origin. They don't have the same link with France as their parents who chose to come and work here.

"So as (President) Jacques Chirac said, there is some kind of lack of identity," Villepin told the channel.

However, Villepin said, new government measures would apply to all youngsters from poor neighbourhoods, not just those of immigrant background, in line with the French model of equality under the law, regardless of ethnic or religious background.

"In our republic, everybody is equal and we don't want to take into account the colour of the skin or the religion," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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