Violence breaks out in French suburbs

Riot police deployed in force after youths hurled gasoline bombs.

france riots 298.88 (photo credit: )
france riots 298.88
(photo credit: )
Riot police deployed in force to a troubled suburb of Paris after youths hurled gasoline bombs at public buildings, pelted police with projectiles and took to the streets with baseball bats the night before. Dozens of vans carrying riot officers were stationed Tuesday night in Montfermeil, just 15 kilometers east of such Paris landmarks as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, and in the nearby suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, the flash point of riots last year. A helicopter had the area under surveillance. While there were no immediate reports of a repeat of the violence of the night before, a firebomb was thrown inside a police vehicle, setting it ablaze late Tuesday. Officers inside barely had time to get out. The first overnight clashes Monday and the palpable tensions again Tuesday were a stark reminder of the anger that smolders in depressed French suburbs, despite new government efforts to tackle high youth unemployment and racial inequalities following the three weeks of similar, albeit far worse, rioting last fall that shook the country. National police said nine officers suffered light injuries, mostly from projectiles, during the three hours of unrest in Montfermeil on Monday. Police said they made three arrests and fired rubber pellets to try to disperse the roughly 100 youths. The trigger was the arrest Monday afternoon of a suspect in the beating of a bus driver earlier this month, the mayor's office said. The mayor, Xavier Lemoine, said he witnessed that first attack on the driver and had interceded to stop it. On Monday night, following the suspect's arrest, "about 100 people headed to my house shouting 'The mayor is a son of a bitch,"' he told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday at city hall. "The police reacted right away and a violent confrontation took place about 100 meters (110 yards) from my house." He said gasoline bombs were thrown at city hall _ although there were no evident scorch marks _ and that a separate municipal storeroom was partially burned. City hall also suffered two broken windows and shattered glass on its front door. Last year's riots started after two youths were electrocuted to death while hiding from police in a power substation. Many of those who rioted were of immigrant origin, laying bare decades of discrimination and France's failure to integrate immigrants and provide opportunities for impoverished youth. Youths from Montfermeil said Tuesday that little had changed since then and that suburbs like theirs remain tinderboxes. "All we need is a pretext for everything to begin again," said Joana, 15. Like other youths in the neighborhood, she refused to give her surname, saying she feared that discussing the situation with a journalist could lead to trouble with police or with her peers. Tension in Montfermeil has remained high since the mayor last month banned teenagers from circulating in groups of more than three, and ordered youths under 16 to be accompanied by an adult in public. A court later overturned the bans after protests from civil liberties groups. Youths also blamed stepped-up police patrols in Montfermeil for contributing to tensions. Greens lawmaker Noel Mamere said that after last year's riots, France had simply put "the lid on the pot" of its troubled suburbs. "But it is still boiling and the fire can start again with the slightest spark," he said. Such violence could loom large as a campaign issue in presidential and legislative elections next year, and tackling youth unemployment and persistent inequalities will be key challenges for President Jacques Chirac's successor. "Nothing has been fixed and things are getting worse," said sociologist Michel Wieviorka. He said France's model of racial integration is "totally broken down," and that politicians on the opposition left and Chirac's right appear hamstrung until next year's polls. "We are at a point that is even worse than a dead end," he said.