Posted on November 26, 2007

Rioting French Youths Demand ‘Truth’

The Australian (Sydney), November 27, 2007

Police were on alert last night for a new flare-up of violence in the Paris suburbs, after the death of two teenagers in a crash with a police car sparked six hours of rioting by angry youths.

Gangs torched cars and looted shops and buildings in the north Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel, injuring 25 police officers, following the death of the youths, aged 15 and 16, whose cross-country motorbike collided with a police car yesterday afternoon..

About 100 angry youths quickly gathered at the crash site, in a flashpoint high-rise housing estate, demanding the “truth” about the accident, as rioting spread across the town.

In 2005, the accidental death of two youths allegedly fleeing police in another north Paris suburb sparked three weeks of riots in suburban estates across France, the country’s worst social unrest in decades.

Omar Sehhouli, the brother of one of the yesterday’s victims, accused police of ramming the motorbike and of failing to assist the injured teens.

“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.

“I know they will say they left because they were afraid of clashes or of being assaulted . . . but up until now we have had no apology from the police chief.”

Police said the bike smashed into the side of their car during a routine patrol of the neighbourhood. Neither youth was wearing a helmet, according to witnesses. An internal police investigation has been opened.

Officials reported at least seven arrests in Villiers-le-Bel as rioters torched two garages, a petrol pump and two shops, pillaged the railway station in neighbouring Arnouville and set fire to more than 20 cars.

Twenty-five police were injured in the violence, two seriously, as well as one firefighter, officials said. A police station in Villiers-le-Bel was set on fire and another in Arnouville was wrecked.

Police said there were reports of “small groups attacking shops, passers-by and car drivers” to rob them. One suspect was arrested carrying jewellery from a looted store, they said.

Mr Sehhouli said the rioting “was not violence but an expression of rage” and that he wanted the officers “responsible” for the accident to be brought to justice.

Locals said rampaging youths had burnt cars to prevent police from entering the area. “Every time they try to do so, the youths charge with whatever they can lay their hands on,” one said.

Appealing for calm, the Mayor of Villers-le-Bel, Didier Vaillant, said he would ensure there was “an impartial investigation”.

Police and politicians warn that many French suburbs remain a “tinderbox” two years after riots that exposed France’s failure to fully integrate the French-born descendants of African and Arab immigrants. But the national leader of the opposition Socialist Party, Francois Hollande, said the violence proved the “deep social crisis” of the suburbs had yet to be resolved.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, a former interior minister who is reviled in the suburbs for his tough stance on law and order and immigration, has promised a “Marshall Plan” to tackle exclusion and high unemployment in the suburbs.