French Leader: Thug Culture Caused Riots

Jenny Barchfield, AP, November 29, 2007

President Nicolas Sarkozy rejected the notion Thursday that a recent bout of rioting was part of a wider social crisis, blaming instead a “thugocracy” in France’s housing projects.

The conservative leader vowed to give law enforcement improved technology to fight urban disturbances like ones that shook the troubled suburbs north of Paris earlier this week.

Vast deployments of riot police succeeded in restoring calm to the area following two nights of violent clashes between rampaging local youth and police officers.

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.

Sarkozy made it clear he would not throw money at the problem, saying he favored harsher penalties for the troublemakers.

“The response to the rioters is not more money at the taxpayers’ expense, but the arrest of rioters,” Sarkozy told a meeting of some 2,000 police officers. He insisted the unrest had “nothing to do with a social crisis. That has everything to do with the thugocracy.”

He said France would invest in video surveillance equipment and other technologies aimed at putting down urban violence.

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At the height of the violence Monday night, rioters fired shotguns at officers, injuring at least 10 and signaling a deterioration in long-strained relations between police and the country’s youth. Guns were rarely used during the 2005 riots.

In his speech Thursday, Sarkozy vowed zero tolerance for the use of firearms against officers.

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