Henry Samuel, Telegraph (London), August 30, 2012
François Hollande on Thursday faced calls from the Socialist mayor of a tough Marseille neighbourhood to send in the army to tackle the city’s gang warfare.
The appeal highlighted the escalating drug violence in the Mediterranean port city that claimed its 14th victim in eight months earlier this week.
Kalashnikov-wielding gangsters shot dead Walid Marzouki, 25, a suspected trafficker, at close range on Wednesday night as he drove his black Twingo in the streets of France’s second biggest city.
It was the second gangland killing this month and the latest in a wave of deaths to hit Marseille Nord, one of the city’s toughest drug-infested suburbs, sparking Samia Ghali, the Socialist mayor of two local districts, to call for military intervention.
“Faced with the weapons of war being used by these networks, only the army can intervene,” Miss Ghali, also a senator, told local newspaper La Provence.
She said that the army should set up roadblocks around neighbourhoods to vet inhabitants for weapons and drugs “like in times of war”.
“It no longer makes any difference to send in a police car to stop the dealers. When 10 of them are arrested, 10 others take up the torch. It’s like fighting an anthill.”
Politicians from Left and Right widely rejected Miss Ghali’s call.
Speaking from Madrid, President Hollande said: “The army has no place in controlling the districts of the French Republic”, pointing out that gendarmes, who have a military status, are already present in many areas.
Manuel Valls, the interior minister, said: “It is out of the question for the army to respond to these tragedies and crimes. There is no internal enemy.”
But he promised a “comprehensive, in-depth and particularly strong” response to the shootings.
On Thursday, Marseille’s Right-wing mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin, slammed Miss Ghali’s remarks as “irresponsible”, saying the city needed “police reinforcements, not a call to civil war”.
Police were also sceptical. David-Olivier Reverdy of the Alliance union said: “France is not at war. Each to their own profession. Rather give us the means to fight against underground (drug) trafficking.”
Marseille is renowned as a vibrant Meditteranean melting pot, with a beautiful old port. It will be the European capital of culture in 2013. But the city’s uphill battle against gangland killings and rising petty crime has been the bane of Left and Right-wing leaders.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy changed the city’s police chief three times in 18 months to tackle a series of violent murders, heists and robberies, including seven “home-jackings” of Olympique Marseille footballers in a year.
The second chief to go, Gilles Leclair was fired after declaring: “I cannot resolve all on my own the difficulties of a poor city which has for the past 50 years suffered from immigration and a tradition of gangsters.”
The Socialists cited Marseille as proof that Mr Sarkozy’s crime-fighting record was a “fiasco”, found itself accused by the Right yesterday of “laxism”.
In response, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he would chair crisis talks with senior ministers next Thursday on tackling Marseille’s problems. The district where the killing took place will be one of 15 “priority zones” Mr Valls has pledged to set up around France to root out crime and violence.
Mr Gaudin said creating such a zone would be insufficient to control a situation that was “worsening every day”.
There have been more killings in the past eight months than for the whole of 2011, according to Marseille public prosecutor Jacques Dallest. He warned last year that parts of parts of Marseille were like “the favelas of Rio”.