Thu, Nov 10, 2005 - Page 6 News List

French courts fast-tracking riot trials

AP , BOBIGNY, FRANCE

French courts are fast-tracking trials for scores of youths arrested in the wave of rioting, and human rights campaigners fear jail sentences will only fuel the sense of injustice roiling the mostly immigrant communities.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told parliament that police have made 1,500 arrests since the riots began on Oct. 27.

The Justice Ministry said on Tuesday that 106 adults and 33 minors have been sentenced to prison or detention centers.

Human rights groups are warning the quick trials could intensify the anger and feelings of neglect in communities hit by the unrest.

One heavily guarded courtroom in the northeastern Paris suburb of Bobigny alone is handling about 60 riot-related cases a day and has called in three extra magistrates to deal with the overflow. The hearings continue late into the night.

Youngsters rushed through the courtroom -- most of them French-born children of Arab and African immigrants -- faced charges of vandalism or carrying homemade gasoline bombs.

Almost all said they were guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"It wasn't me!" a 22-year-old insisted at his trial, just three days after his arrest.

A police report read to the court said the young man reeked of gasoline and had traces of fuel on his hands when police caught him running from a fire. He insisted that two other people set the blaze in trash cans in a towerblock in the nearby suburb of Pantin.

"I only came to Pantin to buy some cannabis," said the man, whose parents immigrated from the former Yugoslavia.

The magistrate was not impressed. After examining the evidence for 15 minutes, she sentenced him to four months in prison "given the exceptional disturbances" and called the next case.

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