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FRANCE: Riots Spread Into Rebellion

Julio Godoy

PARIS, Nov 6 2005 (IPS) - Rioting by immigrant youth around Paris has begun to take the shape of a nationwide rebellion against racial and social segregation, and repressive police action.
      Vehicles were burnt in the centre of Paris for the first time since the beginning of the unrest 11 days ago in the north-eastern suburbs.

Rioting by immigrant youth around Paris has begun to take the shape of a nationwide rebellion against racial and social segregation, and repressive police action.

Over the weekend gangs comprising youth mostly from the Maghreb countries and sub-Saharan Africa set fire to more than a thousand vehicles, several supermarkets, and public buildings including schools and sport facilities.

Vehicles were burnt in the centre of Paris for the first time since the beginning of the unrest 11 days ago. Similar violence broke out in other cities including Marseille, Rennes, Nantes and Lille.

The police have been unable to re-establish order despite strong action. Hit-and-run youth gangs coordinating action over mobile phones have been too quick for them. It now seems less and less likely that police action alone can restore calm.

The unrest began Oct. 27 after two immigrant children died accidentally in a high-voltage electricity facility in Clichy-sous-Bois, a poor district some 30km north-east of Paris. In the face of rumours that they were being chased by the police, which the police deny, angry youths went on the rampage.


The police reacted with force, in one instance hurling tear-gas grenades into a mosque. Most residents of the Parisian outskirts where the unrest began are Muslims. Such action was seen by many residents as provocative.

Minister for the interior Nicholas Sarkozy’s remarks calling violent youth ‘scum’ also provoked further violence, several experts say. “Sarkozy’s choice of words makes me think of the rhetoric used by military police in racial dictatorships, and of regimes practising ethnic cleansing,” Hugues Lagrange, social researcher at the independent Paris Observatory of Social Change told IPS.

Lagrange said conditions of extreme poverty, high unemployment and the racial segregation that hinders immigrant access to jobs lay at the heart of the rebellion. Instead of dealing with these issues, Sarkozy is stirring up unrest “to establish tighter electoral links with a populist right-wing extremist population.”

Lagrange said one of Sarkozy’s first measures as minister of the interior was to disband a special police unit created by the former Socialist government in 1997 to maintain close contact with youth organisations to prevent any outbreak of violence.

“The duty of police officers is to chase criminals, not to play football with them,” Sarkozy said at the time.

Deep political divisions have emerged over the violence. Neo-fascist leader Jacques Bompard and the right-wing nationalist Philippe de Villiers have urged the government to call in the army to suppress the rebellion. De Villiers said the rebellion is proof that the French model of integration “has clearly failed.”

On the other hand, local Muslim leaders say Sarkozy must be sacked. They said in a statement that after the attack on the mosque and Sarkozy’s abuse of youth, they “do not consider Sarkozy an appropriate negotiation partner.”

President Jacques Chirac indirectly condemned Sarkozy’s response. “The law shall be firmly applied, but in a spirit of respect and dialogue,” Chirac had said last Wednesday.

But opposition leaders and several commentators are urging Chirac to throw Sarkozy out of government. “Sarkozy is an arsonist pretending to be a fireman” ran the title of an editorial comment in the leftist newspaper L’Humanité.

Noel Mamère, leader of the Green Party, called Sarkozy “a danger for French democracy, a danger destroying rapidly the year-long integration efforts carried out by social workers and organisations in the field.” He said if Sarkozy does not resign, “the government must kick him out.”

Christian Pfeiffer, a German criminologist who has been researching youth unrest in Europe, said “Sarkozy’s behaviour is absolutely unacceptable.”

Sarkozy has refused to apologise. “I cannot understand why people make such a fuss about words, but ignore the reality of riots and crimes,” he said. He said the riots had been “carefully organised…by criminal mafias and by religious extremists.”

City mayors and social workers all over France are calling for a major plan to develop low- income districts to avoid future explosions of violence. Jean-Marie Bockel, mayor of Mullhouse in the north-east, has called for “a Marshall plan for our districts.”

 
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FRANCE: Riots Spread Into Rebellion

Julio Godoy

PARIS, Nov 6 2005 (IPS) - Rioting by immigrant youth around Paris has begun to take the shape of a nationwide rebellion against racial and social segregation, and repressive police action.
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