After making two inaccurate statements linking the boys to crimes, the French authorities now say that the pair were running away "for no reason", wrongly thinking that the police were pursuing them.
The inaccurate statements by M. Sarkozy and the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, now withdrawn, have fuelled four nights of violent confrontations between local youths and the police. More than 70 cars have been burnt, scores of policemen slightly injured, a live bullet has been fired at a police truck and a kindergarten and fire station have been vandalised. More than 50 youths have been arrested, some of whom appeared in court yesterday.
M. Sarkozy also spoke yesterday to five friends of the dead boys, who were wearing T-shirts emblazoned "mort pour rien" (dead for no reason). He promised both relatives and friends that an official investigation would reveal the truth. Both groups agreed to appeal for calm in Clichy-sous-Bois.
Although tempers had seemed to be subsiding on Sunday, a renewed outbreak of violence was feared yesterday after a police tear-gas shell exploded inside a local mosque on Sunday night. Residents accused the CRS riot police of targeting the mosque. Police suggested that a smoking shell might have been carried inside by rioters as a deliberate "provocation".
The incidents are a severe blow to M. Sarkozy's carefully honed reputation as a man who is prepared to be tough, but fair, with the violence-prone inner suburbs of French cities.
Clichy-sous-Bois is an area of high-rise flats, north-east of Paris, mostly populated by people of North African and African origin. Although not the most violent of Paris suburbs, it is the scene of constant friction between local youths and the police. Friends of the dead boys - who had no police record - said they ran away from a routine police identity check because they were afraid of being detained, or roughed up, by the officers.
At first, M. Sarkozy and M. de Villepin said that the boys were sought in connection with a burglary. Then M. Sarkozy said they were suspected of vandalising a building site. The government later admitted that both statements were untrue. The boys had mysteriously taken flight while returning from a football game, the authorities said.
The third, injured, boy had confirmed, according to police, that they were not being chased. "After a while, we had no idea why we were running," he is said to have told investigators from his hospital bed.
The boys' companions said they had tried to avoid a police check and were chased by at least two officers. They said the policemen must have seen the boys climbing the 8ft, barbed-wire topped wall of the sub-station but did nothing to help them or warn the electricity company.Reuse content