Fri, Nov 30, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Calm restored in troubled Paris suburb

TOUGH TALK The French president promised punishments for rioters who fired at police, and prosecutors said they opened an inquiry for attempted homicide cases

AP , VILLIERS-LE-BEL, FRANCE

Vast deployments of riot police restored calm to the troubled suburbs of northern Paris, with only scattered cases of arson reported yesterday after nights of rioting.

A few vehicles and garbage cans were set on fire overnight in the Val d'Oise region north of the capital and police made less than 10 arrests, a spokeswoman for the local government said. There were no attacks targeting police and no police injuries, she said.

"It really is getting calmer and calmer," she said.

She declined to be identified by name, in line with her department's policy.

"We are returning little by little to normal," she said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government deployed riot officers again to the worst-hit town, Villiers-le-Bel, on Wednesday night.

The trigger for the riots was the deaths on Sunday of two teenage boys in a motorbike crash with a police car in Villiers-le-Bel. Some residents refused to believe the deaths were accidental, blaming the police.

Violence peaked on Monday night and echoed riots that raged through poor suburbs nationwide for three weeks in 2005. The unrest showed that anger still simmers in poor housing projects where many Arabs, blacks and other minorities live, often isolated from mainstream society.

Successive governments have struggled with the question of how to integrate minority youths from poor neighborhoods. Heavy state investment has done little to improve housing and create jobs in the depressed projects that ring Paris.

The government's newest plan -- an "equal opportunities" bill to improve the prospects of those in poor suburbs -- will be unveiled on Jan. 22.

Sarkozy promised tough punishments for rioters who fired at police with shotguns.

They "will find themselves in a criminal court," Sarkozy said. "That has a name, it is a murder attempt."

Prosecutors said that they had opened a preliminary inquiry for attempted homicide in the cases.

The unrest has drawn comparisons to riots that raged through poor suburbs nationwide for three weeks in 2005 and it shows that anger still simmers in poor housing projects where many Arabs, blacks and other minorities live, often isolated from mainstream society.

The rough suburbs are shaky ground for a president who has confidently tackled striking rail workers and sticky diplomatic situations, but is unwelcome in poor French housing projects where his hard line on crime and immigration has riled many residents.

As interior minister just before the 2005 riots, Sarkozy called troublemakers in the suburbs "scum."

During his election campaign early this year, Sarkozy deftly avoided such neighborhoods, except for one carefully orchestrated blitz visit.

On Wednesday, Sarkozy described the incident that sparked the riots as "distressing."

Later the president met with families of the two teens and told them a judicial inquiry had been opened into their deaths.

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