'You are not a problem', Royal tells Paris suburb

27th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France, Feb 27, 2007 (AFP) - Socialist Segolene Royal on Tuesday took her campaign for the French presidency to the flashpoint Paris suburb where rioting began in 2005, lending her support to grass-root organisations seeking to draw lessons from the violence.

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France, Feb 27, 2007 (AFP) - Socialist Segolene Royal on Tuesday took her campaign for the French presidency to the flashpoint Paris suburb where rioting began in 2005, lending her support to grass-root organisations seeking to draw lessons from the violence.

"You are not the problem. You are part of the solution to our problems," Royal told dozens of young residents in Clichy-sous-Bois, a sprawling immigrant suburb of 28,000 on the northeastern edge of Paris.

Royal signed a programme for change in the suburbs pieced together by the umbrella group AC Le Feu (No More Fire) to force candidates to confront such sensitive issues as discrimination, racism and the failure of integration.

"I want you to succeed because we need you in this new France that is rising," said Royal, who wants to become France's first female president.

It was in Clichy-sous-Bois, a collection of run-down high-rise apartment blocks, that riots exploded after two teenage boys died from electrocution in a power station where they were hiding from police in October 2005.

Royal began her nearly three-hour visit to this town by laying flowers at a town memorial to 17-year-old Zyed Benna and 15-year-old Bouna Traore whose death sparked the riots that spread to more than 120 suburbs across the nation.

Members of the Benna and Traore accompanied Royal during the ceremony and Zyed's mother wept openly as the Socialist candidate expressed her empathy with the parents.

She then met with a group of women working with troubled youth, pledging measures to help families and restore neighborhood police patrols that rival Nicolas Sarkozy abolished in the suburbs.

"It really warms my heart to see her here," said Aicha Jefjef, a young woman wearing a headscarf who was among the few dozen bystanders standing under a light drizzle outside the building where she was holding her meeting.

"We in the suburbs are overlooked," she said.

As Royal emerged from her meeting, she was greeted with ululation, applause and cheers of "Vote for Segolene."

Some 15 months after the rioting in which 10,000 cars were torched and hundreds of buildings burned, the candidates for the April-May vote are making a trip to the suburbs a necessary stop on the campaign trail.

Royal's high-profile trip to the heart of suburban violence undercored the difficulties that rival Sarkozy has encountered in trying to reach out to the suburbs.

It was under Sarkozy's watch as interior minister that the three weeks of rioting was brought to an end.

Critics blame him for fanning tensions in the suburbs when he referred to young troublemakers as "racaille" (rabble) in the runup to the violence, a remark that has earned him a reputation as heartless.

Mohamed Mechmache, president of AC Le Feu, said Sarkozy would be welcome to Clichy-sous-Bois after he resigns from his post as interior minister.

"You must not think that there has been any reconciliation between the interior minister and the suburbs," said Mechmache.

Among the 105 proposals in AC Le Feu's programme, Royal agreed to back about 80 including those that call for creating jobs for parents to help troubled youth and creating a two-year training course for school drop-outs, her aides said.

Some ideas, such as abolishing the value-added tax in the suburbs, were considered impractical.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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