Wednesday, November 02, 2005

French government in crisis mode, tries to cope with suburban Paris riots

French government in crisis mode, tries to cope with suburban Paris riots
17:20:49 EST Nov 2, 2005

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France (CP) - France's government went into crisis mode Wednesday to deal with spreading rioting in the suburbs of Paris, with the prime minister postponing a trip to Canada and the president calling for calm.

In tough northeastern suburbs around Clichy-sous-Bois, where the accidental deaths of two teenagers last week first prompted angry youths to rampage, the hulks of burned-out cars littered streets and young men prepared for a seventh consecutive night of fighting with riot police.

Leaders at Clichy-sous-Bois' mosque prayed for peace and asked parents to keep teenagers off the streets.

The violence, which spread to at least nine Paris-region towns overnight Tuesday, laid bare the despair, anger and deep-rooted criminality in France's poor, unemployment-hit suburbs - some of them ghettos where police hesitate to venture despite proof they are fertile terrain for Islamic extremists, drug dealers and racketeers.

The unrest, concentrated in neighbourhoods with large African and Muslim populations, has highlighted the difficulties many European countries face with immigrant communities feeling marginalized and restive, cut off from Europe's prosperity and, for some extremists, its values.

'They have no work. They have nothing to do. Put yourself in their place,' said Abderrahmane Bouhout, president of the Clichy-sous-Bois mosque, where a tear gas grenade exploded Sunday, fuelling the anger of local youths who suspected a police attack. Authorities are investigating the incident.

To deal with the unrest, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin postponed a visit to Canada and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy cancelled a Nov. 6-9 trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In Ottawa, Melanie Gruer, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Paul Martin, said Villepin's visit will be rescheduled. The Canadian government is disappointed but understands the postponement, she said.

French President Jacques Chirac, meanwhile, told a weekly cabinet meeting that "the law must be applied firmly" but "in a spirit of dialogue and respect" to prevent "a dangerous situation" from developing. He acknowledged the "profound frustrations" of troubled neighbourhoods but said violence is not the answer.

"Zones without law cannot exist in the republic," he said.


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