French Youths Clash With Police

AFP, June 15, 2008

Dozens of French youths clashed with police in a town in northeast France overnight, burning cars during a rampage triggered by the killing of a 22-year-old man, an official said on Sunday.

Two police officers, two firefighters and five residents suffered minor injuries during the violence that raged until Sunday morning in Vitry-le-Francois, said Sylvaine Astic from the regional prefect’s office.

Armed with baseball bats and firebombs, about 50 youths went on a rampage, torching cars and setting fire to garbage bins in the town of 17 000 people, Astic told AFP.

The violence started around 22:00 (20:00 GMT) after the 22-year-old man was gunned down in Vitry-le-Francois. A suspect was arrested overnight.

About 60 police officers were dispatched to the town late on Saturday and remained in Vitry-le-Francois on Sunday.

A police union issued a statement denouncing what it termed as “hysteria” in relations between French youth and police.

“This started out as a murderous settling of scores,” said Nicolas Comte of the SGP-FO police union.

“But quickly this tragic event prompted a violent group to attack police with baseball bats and molotov cocktails as young bystanders watched passively, like spectators to the ‘riot show’,” said Comte.

He linked the latest outbreak to the 2005 suburban riots, France’s worst unrest in decades, when poor immigrant-heavy areas around Paris and other major cities exploded into three weeks of violence.

“Nothing has been resolved since. The fire is still burning under the ashes,” said Comte.

About 250 people took part in a silent march in Vitry-le-Francois on Sunday, led by the victim’s mother who wept as she walked holding a photograph of her son through the low-income neighbourhood of Rome-Saint-Charles.

The last time there was major rioting was in the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel in November when two teenagers riding a motorbike died after they collided with a police car. The incident led to three days of riots.

More than 100 police officers were injured in Villiers-le-Bel when rioters armed with hunting rifles and pellet guns opened fire, a new, worrisome turn in the ongoing clashes with police in the suburbs.

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