France tackles suburban violence

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

YOUTHS clashed with police in a Paris suburb yesterday just as the newly-elected conservative National Assembly debated social unrest in under-privileged urban areas.

Police in the Essonne department south of Paris said that around 200 youths smashed bus shelters and telephone booths, and looted a tobacconist's after a gunman had wounded two boys when he fired a revolver from a block of flats in the town of Grigny. The police said the youths had gathered to try to mete out justice themselves. The man, unnamed but said to be 31, was overpowered after a policeman fired, wounding him in the stomach. A detachment of paramilitary riot police was sent to Grigny to restore order.

The incidents, in which five people were injured, provided a dramatic backdrop to the first important debate of the new four-week-old legislature. Suburban violence, which has been building up over the years, is recognised as France's prinicipal social problem.

The often drab suburbs were built around 30 years ago to house French citizens leaving the former North African colonies and also the immigrants, many also from North Africa, who were then encouraged to settle in France at a time of high employment.

Over the past 15 years, however, as unemployment has risen above the 3 million mark, the suburbs, where the jobless total is usually well above the national average, have become a byword for crime, often drug-related, and disenchanted youth.

In the National Assembly, Simone Veil, the centrist Health Minister whose portfolios include the Ministry for Towns, previously held by the entrepreneur Bernard Tapie, said deputies should beware of putting the blame on 'an immigration which is badly controlled, on the younger generations or on such and such a scapegoat. It would be both unjust and undignified'. In a speech in which she paid tribute to the work of her predecessors, she suggested that young delinquents should be temporarily banned from districts where they had committed crimes as part of their punishment.

Defusing the often explosive situation in the suburbs and some inner-city areas such as the 18th arrondissement in Paris, where youths rioted for several nights this month after a policeman shot dead a young African in a police station is seen as needing a carrot-and-stick approach. Mrs Veil, whose brief is to address the social ills, has the more delicate long-term task while Charles Pasqua, the Interior Minister, has the immediate job of clamping down on illegal immigration to ease the pressures. Mr Pasqua said this week he favoured re-introducing snap identity checks to seek out illegal immigrants.