Government powerless in face of spreading riots

4th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 4 (AFP) - Gangs of youths again stoned police and set cars ablaze as France's worst rioting in more than a decade raged for its eighth straight night, sparking fears that racial and social divisions were fuelling growing violence.

PARIS, Nov 4 (AFP) - Gangs of youths again stoned police and set cars ablaze as France's worst rioting in more than a decade raged for its eighth straight night, sparking fears that racial and social divisions were fuelling growing violence.

In a worrying sign, the rampages that have gripped the poorer immigrant-populated outskirts of Paris since October 27 spread, for the first time, to other parts of the country, to Dijon, Marseille and Normandy, and inside the capital itself.

They have also taken on an increasingly dangerous tone, with buckshot fired at riot squad vans -- and prosecutors revealing that a handicapped woman was deliberately set on fire the night before.

According to prosecutors Friday, the 56-year-old woman was unable to get off a bus targeted by a Molotov cocktail late Wednesday in the northern Paris suburb of Sevran. She was allegedly doused with petrol by one youth, then others threw a flaming rag on her. Rescued by the driver, she was taken to hospital with severe burns to 20 percent of her body.

A fireman was also being treated for burns to his face received from a Molotov cocktail thrown earlier in the week.

Overnight Thursday, more than 500 vehicles and several businesses were set on fire, and 78 people arrested in the Paris area, according to police.

Most of the arson happened in the low-income neighbourhoods that lie well outside the city, far from its famous monuments and tourist sights, although seven cars were also burnt in poorer northern and eastern districts in central Paris.

The violence has badly rattled the government of president Jacques Chirac, which is wavering between the 'zero tolerance' policies of the hardline interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy and calls for a more conciliatory approach to take account of the rioters' grievances.

More than 1,300 police were deployed in a vain attempt to restore order around the city, following a vow from prime minister Dominique de Villepin that "I will not allow organised gangs to make the law in the suburbs."

Marine Le Pen, daughter of extreme-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen and deputy leader of his National Front party, called for a state of emergency to be declared in the worst-hit areas.

The rioting -- sparked last week by the accidental deaths by electrocution of two youths who hid in an electrical sub-station in the northeast neighbourhood of Clichy-sous-Bois to escape a police identity check -- is the worst France has seen since the first troubles broke out in deprived high-immigration neighbourhoods in the late 1980s.

Those responsible are groups of young Muslim men, the sons of families from France's former Arab and African colonial territories, who have said in interviews that they are protesting economic misery, racial discrimination and provocative policing.

Arsonists set fire to five businesses in the Seine-Saint-Denis region north and east of Paris city centre, completely destroying a large warehouse containing carpets and flooring material at the Garonord industrial zone near Charles de Gaulle airport.

At Trappes to the southwest of Paris a spectacular fire gutted a bus depot, with 27 vehicles inside destroyed. Witnesses told Europe 1 radio that flames shot 50 meters into the air with repeated explosions.

Five officers were lightly hurt by flying objects as rioters once again stoned police and fire services in several neighbourhoods, and at Neuilly-sur-Marne to the east of Paris buckshot was fired at vans belonging to the CRS riot squad.

Police said that though the number of car-burnings was higher than the previous night, clashes with rioters were fewer.

Speaking on French television late Thursday, Sarkozy said the violence was being orchestrated by unknown organisers. "What we have been witnessing ... has nothing spontaneous about it. It was perfectly organised. We are trying to find out by who and how," he said.

The minister -- who has ambitions to become president after elections in 2007 -- also rejected accusations that his tough rhetoric had fuelled the rioters' anger. He has described delinquent suburban youth as "racaille" or rabble, and said crime-ridden areas need to be "cleaned with a power-hose."

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë of the opposition Socialist Party warned on Europe 1 against hasty conclusions being made "between one religion, Islam, and a few extremists" and the range of criminal networks in the down-trodden suburbs.

Small-scale suburban violence is a regular but unreported fact of life in many poor areas on the outskirts of major French cities. According to the police intelligence service, a total of 28,000 cars were burned across the country this year -- even before the latest outbreak.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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