“You’ve had enough of this gang of scum, haven’t you?” said Nicolas Sarkozy to residents in a Paris suburb affected by rioting. “Well we’re going to get rid of them.” The words used by the French interior minister last week illustrate his policy of zero tolerance when it comes to violence. The rioting that followed shook the suburbs of Paris.
The circumstances surrounding an electrocution that triggered the violence is still under investigation, but the police maintain the two teenagers who died were not being chased by officers, as some residents claim. Any symbol of the state seemed to be fair game in the trouble that broke out.
In Paris, the tough line taken by Sarkozy, including use of the word scum, has been criticised by the minister of equal opportunities, Azouz Begag, who is a close ally of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.
Commentators say the rioting is a reminder of just how fragile things are in the suburbs of France’s big cities. These are areas where unemployment is high among large communities of immigrants. Last year almost 2500 vehicles were set on fire in these impoverished areas,
One resident said: “The fact they set fire to the cars of innocent people is what hurts us. It’s painful. We’d like them to stop, and find other ways to express their demands. “Do you understand why they burn cars?” asked a journalist. “Yes, absolutely,” said the resident. “Lack of jobs. Lack of housing. They don’t have a lot to do.”
The mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, Claude Dilain, is critical of the lack of political action. “To get rid of the explosive conditions French society has to be a little less hypocritical and think more about the policies in these areas that have big social, economic and cultural problems,” he said.
Residents in the affected areas just hope the inquiry into the electrocution of the two teenagers will quickly establish the facts, so a sense a calm can return.