Gangs fire at police as riots erupt in France: Cars and
buildings wrecked in orgy of violence
- At least 16 officers were seriously injured during the disturbances on council estates in the city of Amiens, in the Somme region
- It was first serious urban rioting to break out in France since a new Socialist government was elected earlier this year
By PETER ALLEN
PUBLISHED: 11:43, 14 August 2012 | UPDATED: 02:02, 15 August 2012
Police were shot at and buildings destroyed as rioting broke out in two major French cities, presenting the first big test of newly-elected president Francois Hollande’s leadership.
Disaffected youths from north African immigrant estates went on the rampage in the northern cathedral city of Amiens on Monday, setting fire to property and seriously injuring several police officers.
And yesterday there were outbreaks of trouble in the south-western city of Toulouse as the spectre of widespread urban disturbances returned to haunt France.
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Mr Hollande broke off from his holiday on the Riviera to pledge that the government ‘will mobilise everything it can to fight this violence’.
He added: ‘Security is not only a priority for us, it is an obligation.’
Trouble first broke out in the Fasset district of Amiens when a driver was stopped by police for a routine check. Youths taunted the officers before throwing missiles at them.
The situation was made worse by the presence of a crowd gathered to mourn a 20-year-old man who was killed in a motorcycle accident last Thursday.
Buildings were burnt down in the north of the city and many police officers were seriously injured, including 16 who suffered wounds from shotguns and fireworks.
Riot police used rubber bullets and deployed a helicopter to try to stop the trouble, which intensified throughout Monday night.
‘The situation got out of control and spread to nearby streets,’ said a police spokesman.
‘Soon hundreds of rioters were involved. They were setting fire to bins and to cars and attacking anybody who tried to stop them.’
North Amiens is one of 15 tinderbox ‘priority security zones’ identified by the government as requiring increased policing.
There have been sporadic incidents of violence in the Mirail area of Toulouse all week, with police threatened as they tried to arrest a Muslim youth.
Mr Hollande, who is keen to prove his Socialist government is tough on crime, yesterday sent interior minister Manuel Valls to Amiens to say that ‘everything would be done to combat violence’.
But Mr Valls was jostled and booed when he arrived, with locals accusing him of being as insensitive to the concerns of low-income immigrants as Nicolas Sarkozy was.
The far-right Front National party, which has huge support in the depressed north of France, tried to link the riots with ‘mass immigration’ causing ‘huge insecurity’ across the country.
A local mayor in Amiens blamed mounting social tension for the trouble, saying those on isolated estates faced discrimination in everything from housing to employment.
Gilles Demailly, the Socialist mayor of Amiens, said: ‘There have been regular incidents here, but it has been years since we’ve known a night as violent as this, with so much damage done.’
He estimated that around £800,000 worth of damage had been caused by the latest riot.
France is notorious for locating immigrant families, including thousands of Muslims from its former North African colonies, on rundown housing projects such as Fasset, where the worst of the latest trouble broke out.
Summer rioting represents a huge challenge to Mr Hollande during a period of record unemployment and economic decline.
Thierry Mariani, a member of the conservative UMP party and former minister for transport, called for a ‘tough response’ from the government.
He said: ‘If it is confirmed that officials responsible for defending the law have been shot at by thugs then this is totally unacceptable.’
A state of emergency was declared in 2005 as hundreds of towns and cities went up in flames, with Mr Sarkozy sending out extra police.