Thu, Jun 01, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Riot police scuffle with gangs in Paris

VIOLENCE Youths in Paris' poor suburbs attacked a police station, set cars on fire and stoned buildings, prompting Nicolas Sarkozy to promise a clampdown

AFP , MONTFERMEIL, FRANCE

A police vehicle burns outside the Montfermeil city hall, north of Paris, early yesterday. The car was set ablaze by rioting youths.

PHOTO: AP

Rioters hurling rocks clashed with police in the rough suburbs of Paris for a second night running on Tuesday as authorities arrested a youth whose injury -- along with the death of two friends -- last year sparked a wave of brutal rioting.

Muhittin Altun, who survived an electrocution in October when he hid out from police in a power sub-station, was detained late on Tuesday in Clichy-sous-Bois, a poor neighborhood northeast of Paris that was the epicenter of last year's violence.

Police said the 18-year-old had been pitching rocks at a police car. His lawyer denied the charge.

Altun was alleged to have joined in the fresh wave of rioting as it spread from nearby Montfermeil, where gangs attacked a police station, set ablaze cars and rained stones down on public buildings.

Police said four officers were wounded while protecting the Montfermeil police station from a hail of missiles. Five youths were arrested.

Four other officers, visibly rattled, managed to get out of their car, in front of the Bosquets public housing estate on the border of the two towns, just before the youths set it on fire, reporters said.

A day earlier seven officers were reported injured and three youths arrested.

Following the first outbreak of clashes late on Monday, when Montfermeil's town hall and mayor's home were attacked and a gang of 100 masked youths patrolled the suburb, a 250-man contingent was dispatched to quell the unrest.

Through the night on Tuesday, a helicopter with a spotlight canvassed the neighborhood, seeking new flare-ups.

Clamping down

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the powerful politician known for his law-and-order rhetoric, pledged late on Tuesday he would clamp down on any further violence.

"I won't let chaos be stirred up anywhere in France," he said.

French authorities have ordered the immediate scale-up of security, fearing a repeat of the unrest that plunged the country into the worst violence in four decades and unleashed a social crisis of dramatic proportions.

The unrest was initially sparked by the electrocution on Oct. 27 of Altun and friends Bouna Traore, a 15-year-old of Malian background, and Zyed Benna, a 17-year-old of Tunisian origin, who both died.

Youths in the suburb, after learning of the deaths, went on a rampage that spread around most of France's big cities and towns and prompted the government to declare a state of emergency.

The riots quickly snowballed in high-immigrant districts, fueled by local youth anger at racial discrimination, a lack of educational and employment prospects and police harassment.

After three weeks of unrest across the country, the final toll rose to 10,000 vehicles torched and more than 3,200 people arrested.

One of Altun's lawyers protested his arrest yesterday, dismissing police claims he had participated in the fresh rioting.

"Muhittin Altun is being held on pathetic charges -- throwing a rock -- which he vehemently denies. We are convinced of his innocence," Jean-Pierre Mignard said.

"He was arrested in front of his home. We are stupefied that his arrest is taking place a day before a critical judicial proceeding," he said, referring to a visit he was to make yesterday alongside investigating magistrates to the sub-station where he had suffered burns.

`Heavy-handed'

The left-wing municipal authorities in Montfermeil blamed the flare-up in violence this week on the "heavy-handed" arrest of a woman from the Bosquets estate whose son was wanted in connection with a robbery.

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