Grudging praise for Lille anti-drug gang

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

TAKING the law into their own hands, youths in a poor suburb of Lille have chased out drug-dealers, drawing praise and mild reproach from the conservative government, which has made urban security one of its priorities.

The Lille suburb of Les Biscottes was the scene of unusual violence this weekend, when some 300 young people, most of immigrant stock, harassed people they believed to be drug-traffickers. They destroyed two cars belonging to alleged dealers.

Interviewed on a radio programme, one North African boy said the youths had taken the initiative because the authorities were 'jokers' who had done nothing to halt the drug trade.

Simone Veil, whose ministerial portfolios include urban affairs, said the action had 'both a troubling and a positive aspect'. Charles Pasqua, the Interior Minister, said it was up to the police to conduct such operations, although he welcomed the youths' initiative.

The action, following similar behaviour near Paris, added a new twist to France's suburban problems. Tension in the dormitory towns, where conditions contrast strongly with the elegance of France's city centres, has grown with illegal immigration and attendant social problems, especially unemployment.

In Les Biscottes, where some of the youngsters chasing traffickers were said to be as young as 12, police complained that the youths refused to hand over dealers to police. One youth said the operations would continue 'because it's up to us to protect our little brothers and sisters'.

The Lille incidents came after the National Assembly approved a new nationality code which will oblige the French-born children of foreign parents to request French nationality rather than acquire it automatically. The new code has been criticised by the Catholic and Protestant churches, and by Muslims.

Mr Pasqua has proposed measures to increase urban security, including the return of random identity checks by police to expel illegal immigrants. Anti-racist groups fear these moves will single out immigrant communities unfairly in the public mind as the source of social problems.