Posted on March 17, 2005

Union Escort for Protesting Paris Students

AFP, Mar. 15

Thousands of French high-school students who demonstrated against the government in central Paris Tuesday were protected by an extensive security detail after violence and muggings that marred a similar march a week ago.

Unions provided an escort of several hundred stewards and police controlled access to the route between Republique and Nation squares. The march passed off peacefully with only a handful of arrests.

Hundreds of young rioters from poor Paris suburbs disrupted the demonstration on March 8, beating teenagers to the ground and stealing mobile telephones and cameras.

Student leaders said that many pupils who would have demonstrated again against the government’s education policies had been scared away by last week’s violence. Police said 6,000 took part Tuesday compared to 9,000 on March 8.

Le Monde newspaper carried disturbing interviews with attackers and victims in last week’s trouble — both sides agreeing that the violence was exclusively carried out on white boys and girls by black and Arab teenagers.

“If I went, it was not to demonstrate but to take telephones and beat people up. There were groups of people running about stirring things up, and in the middle these idiots — these little French people just asking for it,” an 18-year-old of Tunisian origin called Heikel said.

“We came to demonstrate against inequalities and we got beaten up. It’s as if they thought that we — the ‘white Parisians’ — had plenty of money, that we could buy a new mobile phone tomorrow,” said Tristan Goldbronn, 16, who was badly hurt.

Police estimated that between 700 and 1,000 youngsters came into the city centre to spoil the March 8 demonstration, most of them from the Seine-Saint-Denis department in the northern suburbs.

Heikel, who attends a secondary school in the area, told Le Monde that the mainly white Parisian students who took part in the march — known in street parlance as “bolos” — were seen as spoilt and privileged, and therefore fair game.

“A bolo — he’s a sitting duck, a victim,” he said.

“It is the symptom of a real struggle between two worlds,” sociologist Dominique Pasquier told the newspaper.

“Those who feel they are being relegated by the system want to take it out on those who they feel are privileged. In some establishments the split can turn into a real confrontation between whites and immigrants,” he said.

A total of about 50,000 students marched nationwide to protest a school bill going through parliament, despite the recent agreement by Education Minister Francois Fillon to suspend its most contentious provision — an overhaul of the baccalaureat high school-leaving exam.