French riots ‘worse for years’

French riots ‘worse for years’
 
 

The riots lasted about six hours and continued into the early hours of Tuesday [EPA]
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The rioting in six neighbourhoods north of the French capital was sparked by the deaths on Sunday of two teenagers whose motorbike collided with a police car in Villiers-le-Bel.

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Tim Friend, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Paris, said some residents claimed the youths were rammed by the police who then drove away, but police say the collision was an accident.

He said riots only seemed to get worse and that police claimed fire arms were used against them.

‘Urban warfare’

Bruno Beschizza, of the police union Synergie, said the violence was “worse than in the riots of 2005” – which were also triggered by the deaths of two youths in the northern Paris suburbs.

He said officers were “confronted with scenes of real urban guerilla  warfare.

“Things have gone to a new level with the use of weapons including a hunting rifle. Petrol bombs have become the norm, and now we’ve got this new element to take into account,” he said.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president who is currently in China, has appealed for calm.

In Villiers, around 100 youths, crouching behind trash cans, hurled objects at 160 riot police who fired rubber bullets and tear gas.

Buildings torched

 

The riots lasted about six hours and continued into the early hours of Tuesday.

 

Young rioters in the nearby towns of Sarcelles, Garges-les-Gonesse, Cergy, Ermont and Goussainville were armed with petrol bombs, bottles filled with acid and baseball bats, police said.

 

Police said on Tuesday that of the more than 70 officers injured in the latest clashes, five were in critical condition.

One policeman was wounded in the shoulder after being hit by a high-calibre bullet,” a security official said.

     

As many as 63 vehicles and five buildings had been torched and a bus,    which had no passengers on board, and a truck were set alight in    districts near Villiers, police said.

   

Police said six people were arrested.

‘Expression of rage’

An initial police investigation appeared to confirm the police officers’ version that the unlicenced motorbike smashed into the side of their car during a routine patrol on Sunday. Neither youth was wearing a helmet.

     

However, Omar Sehhouli, brother of one of the victims, accused police of ramming the motorbike and of fleeing the scene.

     

“This is a failure to assist a person in danger… it is 100 per cent a [police] blunder. They know it, and that’s why they did not stay at the scene,” he told France Info radio.

     

Sehhouli said the rioting “was not violence but an expression of rage.”

   

Police made nine arrests on Sunday as rioters torched a police station, two garages, a petrol pump and two shops, and pillaged the railway station in neighbouring Arnouville. Some 40 police  officers were reported injured.

         

Police and politicians say the French suburbs remain a “tinderbox” two years after the 2005 riots, which exposed France’s failure to integrate its large black and Arab population.

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