French PM Unveils Plans to Help Youths After Riots

Helene Fontanaud, Reuters, Dec. 1

France unveiled plans on Thursday to give youngsters in poor suburbs a better education and equal opportunities after its worst urban rioting in almost 40 years, and said it would punish discrimination with swinging fines.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who used emergency measures to quell the unrest, is now under pressure to show he can tackle the problems behind three weeks of rioting, mostly by youths of African or Arab origin.

He said acts of discrimination would be punishable by fines of up to 25,000 euros ($29,000) , firms would consider guidelines to make job applications anonymous and the government and trade unions would try to increase diversity in the state sector.

“The crisis we have just lived through has revealed weaknesses and inadequacies and has made us aware of the progress which has to be made,” Villepin told his monthly news conference.

“The urgency today is to make equality of opportunity a reality for everyone, with two levers: jobs and education.”

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PARIS—French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Tuesday in an interview with the US television network CNN that he preferred to use “severe social troubles” rather than “riots” to describe the recent urban violence in France.

“I’m not sure you can call them riots. It’s very different from the situation you have known in 1992 in Los Angeles for example,” Villepin said in English, referring to the LA riots, which left 54dead and some 2,000 wounded.

“In France during the two-week period of unrest, nobody died. So I think you can’t compare this social unrest with any kind of riots,” he said.

Even though more than 9,000 cars were burned, 130 policemen were injured, some 100 public buildings damaged during the violence, “there were no guns in the streets”, the Prime Minister noted, adding “no adults; mostly young people between 12 and 20 . . . so it’s a very special movement.”

As to causes of the violence, Villepin said there was a “feeling of discrimination” among many young people of immigrant background, as well as a certain loss of identity.

These Young people “don’t want to be recognized as Muslims, or as blacks, or as people coming from north Africa. They want to be recognized as French and they want to have equal opportunity during their lives,” Villepin told the CNN.

He acknowledged that successive governments had done too little for the poor suburbs in recent decades and said it was “important to understand the real nature of these movements.”

“There is no ethnic or religious basis to this movement, as we see in other parts of the world,” he insisted.

He said he was opposed to the positive discrimination to take note of race and religion and he would present Thursday at the monthly news conference a global program aiming at equal chances and a better education system in high-immigrant areas.

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