Thu, Nov 10, 2005 - Page 6 News List

`Mad' French rioters just want to be heard

THE GUARDIAN , SEVRAN, FRANCE

A French riot police officer looks at a torched car in the eastern French city of Strasbourg early yesterday. Large contingents of police have been deployed in the city as authorities expect a 13th night of disturbances all around France.

PHOTO: EPA

They are gathered, as every night, on the edge of the car park at the foot of the block. Far enough into the shadows not to be easily seen; close enough to the stairwell to leg it inside if the police come near.

Sylla, Sossa, Karim, Rachid, Mounir and Samir are the names they give. The oldest is 21, the youngest 15. One is an apprentice plumber; another is on work experience as a cook at a cafe in nearby Aulnay-sous-Bois; one is claiming benefit; two are (sort of) at school. Three are "known to the police."

This estate, the Rougemont in Sevran, about 25km north of Paris, was one of the first to flare in France's outbreak of rolling urban violence.

There are many reasons for the violence.

"Because we hate, because we're mad, because we've had it up to here," said Rachid, parka hood up against the cold. "Look around you. This place is shit, it's a dump. We have nothing here. There's nothing for us."

Sylla, 18, has a more specific target for his rage.

"Les keufs, man, the cops. They're Sarkozy's and Sarkozy must go, he has to shut his mouth, say sorry or just fuck off. He shows no respect. He calls us animals, he says he'll clean the cities with a power hose. He's made it worse, man. Every car that goes up, that's one more message for him."

The interior minister's forces, of which there are some 9,500 on duty around the country, are loathed.

"They harass you, they hassle you, they insult you the whole time, ID checks now, scooter checks next. They call you nigger names," said Karim, 17. "I got caught the other week smoking on the train. Ok, you shouldn't smoke on the train. But we get to Aulnay station, there are six cops waiting for us, three cars. They did the search, they had me with my hands on the roof of the car. One said: `Go back home, Arab. Screw your race.'"

On Monday, the government approved emergency measures imposing curfews at local authorities' discretion.

On the streets after midnight on Monday, the measure provoked disbelief.

"It's bad, it's really serious," said Djaoued, 21, a couple of kilometers away near the Chene-Pointu estate in Clichy-sous-Bois, where the riots began on Oct. 27.

"On the radio they said the last time they used that law was in the Algerian war. Is that stupid or what? Ninety percent of the people who live here are Arabs. What does that tell them? Fifty years later, you're still different? We're not allowed outside, and everyone else is?"

Back in Sevran, someone was attempting to set fire to George-Brassens college. Sirens wailed as half a dozen police cars and fire engines screamed along the Avenue Andre Rousseau.

"It's so easy," said Ali, 16. "You need a beer bottle, a bit of petrol or white spirit, a strip of rag and a lighter. Cars are better, though, when the tank goes. One of you smashes a window, the other lobs the bottle."

Ali's friend was an Arsenal fan.

"Thierry Henry, man! But he never scores for France." Does he feel French? "We hate France and France hates us," he spat, refusing to give even his first name. "I don't know what I am. Here's not home; my gran's in Algeria. But in any case France is just fucking with us. We're like mad dogs, you know? We bite everything we see. Go back to Paris, man."

Sylla summed it up.

"We burn because it's the only way to make ourselves heard, because it's solidarity with the rest of the non-citizens in this country, with this whole underclass," he said.

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