FRANCE: GOVERNMENT EYES NEW SECURITY MEASURES AMID FEARS OF FRESH RIOTS
Paris, 16 Oct. (AKI) – France’s prime minister, Dominique de Villepin on Monday asked interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy and justice minister Pascal Clement to study ways of boosting security and stepping up penal sanctions for those convicted of attacking the country’s law enforcers. The move follows a series of ugly clashes between police and youth gangs in poor suburbs of Paris in recent weeks which have sparked fears among the country’s police associations and politicians that the urban riots that rocked France in late October and November 2005 could be about to break out again.
“Gendarmes and policemen have a difficult job that demands respect and support,” said Sarkozy – a hopeful in France’s 2007 presidential race who controversially described last year’s rioters as “rabble” and “scum”. His office will meet police unions on Tuesday, AFP news agency reported.
In most recent of four serious incidents in the past month, a policeman was seriously injured by stones hurled by youths at the weekend after their vehicle was allegedly ambushed and stoned in the suburb of Epinay-sur-Seine north of Paris. The patrol car was trapped when a driverless vehicle was rolled behind it by a group of up to 50 youths, police said.
The police car was attacked with stones and baseball bats and one policeman, Christophe Esteve, 30, was hit in the face. Youths allegedly fired tear gas at police sent to investigate a theft. Local people claimed no more than 20 youths were involved in the disturbance, however, and that the incident began when police began to forcefully interrogate two youths they had picked up on the street.
Violence and aggression towards police, gendarmes, firemen and teachers rose by almost 10 percent between October 2005 and September 2006, according to France’s national Observatory research body. There have been 4,200 violent incidents involving youths in France this year, and such violence increased by 30 percent from August to September, according to a study published on Monday in the daily Le Monde.
The French authorities have recorded around 480 incidents of violence towards police – demonstrating “an unprecedented desire to attack the police,” according to the French police union. Policemen have complained of demotivation, lack of resources, suspicion, repeated vandalism, and physical danger when intervening in incidents, according to police associations.
But Ahmed Hacene, member of a local cooperative founded in Epinay-sur-Seine founded after the more than three week long riots of November 2005, said that the weekend incident there was “an initial act” that had occurred “in a climate of verbal provocation and a frequent lack of respect shown by policemen.”
Last year’s riots erupted in France’s delapidated tower-bloc suburbs with high immigrant populations and unemployment after the accidental death of two Muslim teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois, a working-class Paris suburb during a police chase.
The violence, which spread from Paris to poor suburbs of other cities, mainly involved Muslim youths of Arab and African descent. St least one person was killed and dozens injured in the riots, which led to 2,900 arrests. Damage to the many thousands of vehicles that were torched and to buildings was put at hundreds of millions of euros by insurers.
Last year’s unrest in France captured the attention of the world’s press and prompted renewed debate over radical Islam and the integration of immigrants, and whether the French system has failed its immigrant communities. Many come from its former colonies and have remained France’s poorest groups.