France tightens transport security on riot anniversary
PARIS, Oct 27, 2006 (AFP) – French authorities ordered heightened security on public transport around Paris Friday one year after a wave of urban riots swept the country and days after youths, some armed with handguns, hijacked and torched buses around the capital.
Hundreds marched Friday in the northeastern Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois in memory of the two teenagers whose accidental death on October 27, 2005 sparked weeks of rioting.
A spectacular flare-up on Wednesday night when gangs of arsonists attacked three buses in the Paris suburbs hijacking one with handguns raised fears of a new explosion of unrest, but police said there had been no major trouble overnight Thursday.
“Once again, France and the world are watching us,” the town's mayor Claude Dilain told the crowd. “We need the calm, dignity and courage that are visible here to prevail. Let us show them who we really are.”
“Let's not give anyone cause to point the finger at us,” added local association leader Samir Mihi.
Zyed Benna, 17, and Bouna Traore, 15, both from immigrant families, were electrocuted as they hid from a police patrol in a power sub-station, sending a wave of anger surging through hundreds of run-down, high-immigrant suburbs around the country.
Night after night for three weeks, youth gangs clashed with police, torching more than 10,000 cars and firebombing 300 buildings in one of the most traumatic episodes in France in recent decades.
With the approach of the anniversary, police and local mayors have warned that the conditions that led to the riots remain firmly in place in the “banlieues”, the poor out-of-town neighbourhoods where many immigrants live.
France's tough-talking Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy vowed Thursday following the latest bus attacks that the government would “mobilize all mobile forces at our disposal for the security of those who use public transport.
“We will do everything possible to ensure that public services are not disrupted anywhere in this country.”
Nationwide, police were under orders to be vigilant but to keep their presence low-key, to avoid encouraging confrontations with youths, officers told AFP.
French and international media have been scrutinising the Paris suburbs for signs of a new outbreak of violence despite warnings that the television cameras could spur young rioters on.
Around 60 journalists joined Friday's march in Clichy-sous-Bois, where the boys' families led around 1,000 mourners past their old school to inaugurate a monument in their memory.
Last year's riots which led the government to declare a state of emergency, a measure not enacted since the Algerian war half a century earlier cast an unforgiving spotlight on France's trouble in integrating its Arab-origin and black communities.
Badly shaken by the crisis, the government promised measures such as an extra 100 million euros (125 million dollars) for local associations, bigger training schemes and a crackdown on racial discrimination for jobs.
But a chorus of voices has warned of the inertia that dogs French policy towards the “banlieues”, where unemployment rates hit 30 to 40 percent.
With six months to go to France's presidential election, the festering situation is certain to be a main campaign theme.
The opposition Socialist Party accuses Sarkozy, the centre-right presidential frontrunner, of being part of the problem because of a tough line on law and order that has made him a hate figure in the “banlieues”.
Sarkozy argues that left-wing welfare policies are at the root of the crisis and that a liberalised economy combined with positive discrimination is the only way to provide jobs and hope.