Pasqua denies Paris police let riot rage unchecked: Minister says low-profile tactics may have saved lives after rally turned violent

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The Independent Online
CHARLES PASQUA, the French Interior Minister, yesterday defended police against charges that they stood by as shops and cars were smashed during a student demonstration in Paris on Thursday.

He said other tactics could have cost lives. Speaking on the TF1 television channel, the Gaullist minister said: 'We had a crowd of peaceful demonstrators who were marching calmly. When this crowd reached Denfert-Rochereau, wreckers got in among them. If we had given the order to go in at that moment, we would not be regretting broken windows and material damage today but perhaps some deaths.'

Mr Pasqua, who earlier in a month of protests said his forces would identify those responsible for violence, said his ministry would not tolerate a chienlit, a word meaning anarchic disorder and made famous by Charles de Gaulle when he moved to end the 1968 riots.

After Thursday's demonstration by some 30,000 young people celebrating the government's decision to scrap plans to allow employers to lower the minimum wage for under-26-year-olds, thugs went on the rampage near the Place Denfert- Rochereau in southern Paris. Some 300 people were initially detained.

At Sante prison the thugs attacked the police post at the main gate. Cars were destroyed by fire, shop windows smashed and stores looted.

Shopkeepers said riot police and gendarmes with tear- gas grenades and backed by water cannon did not move when the violence started.

The protests against the Contrat d'Insertion Professionnelle, (CIP), abandoned by Edouard Balladur, the Prime Minister, on Wednesday in favour of subsidies to encourage employers to take on more young people, have marked the start of an apparent new phase for him.

Until a few weeks ago, Mr Balladur, also a Gaullist, had an unprecedented high score in opinion polls. As this has started to slip, other politicians, particularly in his own conservative coalition, have been manoeuvring to strengthen their own candidates' position ahead of next year's presidential election.

Philippe Seguin, Gaullist president of the National Assembly, said the new parliamentary term beginning today should be an occasion for deputies to make themselves heard. If they had voiced reservations about the CIP more effectively, 'this would have saved the government and the country a good deal of trouble'.