Unrest spreads through French towns; dozens of cars torched

Police in riot gear fire rubber bullets at advancing gangs of youths in Aulnay-sous-Bois.

france riots 298 (photo credit: AP)
france riots 298
(photo credit: AP)
Unrest spread across troubled suburbs around Paris in a sixth night of violence as police clashed with angry youths and scores of vehicles were torched in at least nine towns, officials said Wednesday. Police in riot gear fired rubber bullets at advancing gangs of youths in Aulnay-sous-Bois - one of the worst-hit suburbs - where 15 cars were burned Tuesday night, officials said. Youths lobbed Molotov cocktails at an annex to the town hall and threw stones at the firehouse. It was not immediately clear whether the clashes led to any injuries. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told Europe-1 radio that police detained 34 people overnight. Sarkozy - blamed by many for fanning the violence with tough talk and tactics - defended his approach and vowed to restore calm. The minister recently called rioters "scum" and has vowed to "clean out" Paris' troubled suburbs. "I speak with real words," Sarkozy told Wednesday's Le Parisien newspaper. "When you fire real bullets at police, you're not a 'youth,' you're a thug." Because of the unrest, Sarkozy canceled a visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan that had been planned for Nov. 6-9, his office announced Wednesday. The rioting began last Thursday in the northeastern suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois after the accidental deaths of two teenagers electrocuted when they hid in a power substation because they thought police were chasing them. A third was injured. Officials have said police were not pursuing the boys, aged 15 and 17. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin met Tuesday evening with the parents of the three families, promising a full investigation of the deaths and insisting on "the need to restore calm." In a bid to open a dialogue, Sarkozy also met with victims' relatives, other youths, a police representative and officials from Clichy-sous-Bois. But the unrest spread even as they met. The riots have highlighted the division between France's big cities and their poor suburbs, where anger and despair thrive. The violence has laid bare the frustrations simmering in poor housing projects to the north and northeast of the capital, heavily populated by North African Muslim immigrants and marked by soaring unemployment. In the northeastern suburb of Bondy, 14 cars were burned and four people arrested for throwing stones at police, the prefecture said. A fire engulfed a carpet store, but it was not immediately clear whether the blaze was linked to the suburban unrest. Officials gave an initial count of 69 vehicles torched in nine suburbs across the Seine-Saint-Denis region that arcs around Paris on the north and northeast. An Associated Press Television News team witnessed confrontations between about 20 police and 40 youths in Aulnay-sous-Bois with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Officials said that "small, very mobile gangs" were harassing police and setting fire to garbage cans and vehicles throughout the region. France-Info radio said some 150 blazes were reported in garbage bins, cars and buildings across Seine-Saint-Denis, an area of soaring unemployment, delinquency and other urban ills. A tear gas grenade that landed in the Clichy-sous-Bois mosque Sunday night fed anger, along with arrests. It was unclear who fired the tear gas. Sarkozy said social aid to the suburbs provided over the years had been a failed tactic. "We often accepted the unacceptable," he told Le Parisien. "The reigning order is too often the order of gangs, drugs, traffickers."