The disinherited who cast a shadow on Paris

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THE POSSIBILITY of violence exploding out of the troubled inner- suburbs of French cities seemed one of the least likely threats to the World Cup. The organisers may have to think again.

The sporadic violence in Paris on the opening night - serious enough but hardly the sustained riots suggested by TV pictures - was caused largely by gangs of teenagers of North African origin, from the deprived inner ring of suburbs around the French capital.

Argentinian fans also threw bottles; two Scots were arrested, apparently after returning fire. But World Cup security sources said the deliberate attacks on police, the smashing of car windows and a brief, concerted attempt to break through police lines were the work of youngsters from the so called quartiers difficiles beyond the Boulevard Peripherique. The great majority of the 23 people arrested were French. Two police officers were seriously injured.

Efforts were being made yesterday to minimise the incidents. Police said the violence was broadly in line with the events they deal with every New Year's Eve and every 14 July (the French national day) when groups of teenagers, from the sink suburbs come into the capital for the festivities. As the main crowd starts to go home, there are generally scuffles between police and youth gangs.

"What happened is regrettable. It's a shame and it has tarnished the image of the celebrations. But it is no big deal with 200,000 people in the streets," said Rene Querry, the head of World Cup security.

This may be true and Tuesday's violence may be an isolated event. But it is also true to say that the incidents are part of a pattern of increasing violence by suburban teenagers, which is partly random or criminal and partly "political" or deliberately provocative. Since this violence tends to go in waves, with one town following another, there is a risk of copy- cat outbreaks in the World Cup host cities such as Marseilles or Lyons.

A youth organiser in the Seine-Saint Denis area, north west of Paris, where youth unemployment is over 40 per cent, said: "I've no reason to believe that the incidents were planned in any way. But the truth is that there is a great frustration about the World Cup in all the cites [estates of tower blocks] that I know. The kids can see the big new stadium at Saint Denis. They see all the fuss on the television, they adore football. But they cannot afford tickets or, even if they could, they don't have the bank account number that you needed to buy a ticket in France. They feel excluded from life and now they feel excluded from the World Cup."

There is a doughnut of deprivation around most large cities in France - high unemployment, poor schools, gang violence - which the sixty million tourists each year and the vast majority of French people prefer to forget. In Britain and the US, towns tend to rot from the centre: in France, typically, the poor, the unemployed, the second and third generation immigrants, have been swept into the first ring of suburbs.

There was a series of violent outbreaks in a score of French conurbations last winter, from Lille and Roubaix in the north to Lyon and Avignon in the south, starting with the stoning of buses and moving on to the burning of cars. The most recent incidents have involved systematic attacks by youth gangs on the large summer fairgrounds which have been pushed out of city centres to the border of the sink suburbs themselves.

Youth workers and local councillors point to a pattern in the violence: attacks on symbols of fun (such as fairgrounds) or transport into the city, because they represent a life from which the teenagers feel excluded, economically and racially.

"There is a sense of desperation, of anger, in the quartiers difficiles, which is much worse that eight or ten years ago," said Farid Sellani, 24, a Lille city councillor, who works with suburban youth.

"The kids of Arab origin are not the only ones out of work but it is, truthfully, much worse for them. They know that, even if there were jobs, their chances of getting one are much less than their French schoolmates. They know that, even if they could afford, to go to a night-club in town, they wouldn't be allowed in."