Thursday, November 03, 2005

Riots ring Paris after teen's deaths (Anti-Arab Racism)

Chirac appeals for calm as violence escalates in poor neighbourhoods

PARIS -- Miss972, as she called herself on an Internet blog, was overcome with grief.

"I didn't know you, but it hurts so much to lose someone and I will never be able to forget you," she wrote, posting her heartache to one of the dozens of French Internet blogs newly dedicated to two teenaged boys who have come to be known as "the angels of the ghetto."

The two boys were electrocuted in a gruesome accident in Clichy-sous-Bois, one of the grim, densely populated suburban slums ringing Paris. They apparently thought police were chasing them, although the police say they were not involved. A third teenager with them was seriously injured.

The deaths, a week ago today, have sparked a week of rioting that has spread to neighbouring cities, leaving a trail of tear-gas grenades, hundreds of burned cars and fire-blackened buildings in the worst urban violence France has seen for years.

The dead teenagers have been lionized as martyrs to police heavy-handedness, to racism and to decades of official neglect of the country's underclass of African and Arab immigrants.

Despite calls for calm by President Jacques Chirac and religious leaders, and a cordial meeting between Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the parents of the teenagers, the disturbances continued for a seventh consecutive night last night.

Youths went on the rampage in nine areas in poor suburbs ringing the French capital to the north and the east, setting alight about 40 cars, two buses and dumpsters, as well as causing damage to at least one school, a shopping centre and a police post, Reuters reported.

"Emotions must quiet down," Mr. Chirac told government ministers yesterday, a government spokesman reported. Hundreds of police were deployed to control the disturbances, with some units diverted from a soccer match.

The fiery images from the suburbs recalled earlier tragedies that roiled the immigrant communities, particularly the string of fires in dilapidated apartment buildings in Paris in August and September. The fires killed 24 people, all of them immigrants crammed into illegal housing who had been promised decent lodging for years.

"People are joining together to say we've had enough," a 22-year-old named Eric told Associated Press in Clichy-sous-Bois. Eric was born in France to Moroccan parents.

"We live in ghettos," he added refusing to give his surname. "Everyone lives in fear."

Mr. de Villepin, delaying his planned departure for Canada, said the government would act firmly to re-establish order.

But he warned, "There is no miracle solution to the situation faced by these neighbourhoods."

Public officials have reacted with a mix of political name-calling and renewed promises to improve living conditions for France's poor. While state agencies hesitated, leaving the police to restore order with tear gas and raids, independent Muslim leaders from local mosques stepped in to organize peaceful demonstrations and to dispatch mediators into neighbourhoods to calm young people.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has all but declared his candidacy for president in the 2007 elections, has taken a hard line. Faced with smaller-scale outbreaks of violence in slum areas during the past few months, he railed against "riff-raff" and pledged "zero tolerance" for delinquents.

Azouz Begag, the feisty Minister for Equal Opportunities and a native of the suburban housing projects, has advocated a different approach, blaming the outbreak of violence on a persistent sense of disenfranchisement in the slums that is aggravated by the failure of the state to include minorities in the security forces.

He has called for a full public debate on France's policies for assimilating immigrants and overcoming discrimination. "After all," he said recently, "it's not uninteresting to see that two ministers do not see the same France."

No comments: