Fires of 'civil war' erupt in Paris


Police in street battles after two teenagers die in chase
Jason Burke in Paris
Sunday October 30, 2005
The Observer

Hundreds of French youths fought with police and set cars ablaze in a northern Paris suburb early yesterday morning in a second successive night of rioting.

The disorder was triggered last week when two teenagers were electrocuted and killed in a local substation while fleeing from police. French authorities insist they were running away from officers investigating a break-in, but people in Clichy-sous-Bois claim that the dead youths had committed no crime.

Yesterday afternoon a silent march was held to the town hall in the centre of the suburb. Many protesters wore T-shirts bearing the message: 'Dead for Nothing'.

'We respect the republic, said Siako Karne, the brother of one of the dead men. 'The republic has to respect us.'

Firefighters extinguished more than 30 burning cars and dozens of dustbins pushed into makeshift barricades on Friday night and Saturday morning as running battles in the streets of the north-eastern suburb pitted more than 200 riot police against scores of hooded youths. At least one shot was fired at the police, 19 people were detained and 15 officers and one journalist injured, an official spokesman said.

An officer from police trade union Action Police CFTC called for help from the army to support police officers. 'There's a civil war under way in Clichy-sous-Bois at the moment,' Michel Thooris from Action Police CFTC, said. 'My colleagues neither have the equipment nor the practical nor theoretical training for street fighting.'

Clichy-sous-Bois is home to 28,300 people a large number of whom are recent immigrants from North or Central Africa. Most live in rundown, low-rise public housing estates. Unemployment rates are among the highest in France and many locals see the police as 'the enemy'.

Claude Dilain, Socialist mayor of the suburb, called for an 'efficient, rapid and transparent investigation' into the deaths of the two teenagers. A relative of one of the dead youths, who were identified by local media as 15-year-old Banou and 17-year-old Ziad, said that the two were among nine boys were playing football and 'doing nothing wrong'. 'But one of them did not have an identity card, and so they were scared when they saw the police and ran,' she said.

According to the mayor, 'no particular recent tension' preceded the riots.

The violence has focused attention once more on France's Interior Minster, Nicholas Sarkozy. Sarkozy, whose law and order policies have drawn frequent criticism from human rights groups, launched a new offensive against crime this month, ordering specially trained police to tackle 25 tough neighbourhoods in cities across France.

Delphine Batho, the opposition Socialist Party security spokesperson, called for 'serious answers' to the questions raised by the violence.