Riot police move in as youths burn cars on French estate

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The Independent Online

Dozens of hooded youths battered two police vehicles with metal bars, set fire to more than a dozen parked cars and torched a community centre in north-east France, officials said yesterday.

The rampage, in a tough neighbourhood in Saint-Dizier, about 120 miles east of Paris, revived memories of a wave of car burnings, vandalism and clashes with police by youths in 2005, fanned by feelings of alienation among French youths of Arab and African origin.

Authorities were not sure what sparked the incident involving 30-40 youths, which erupted as firefighters – escorted by police – entered the Vert-Bois neighbourhood on Thursday in response to a fire alert. A police officer was treated for cuts from broken glass, and a firefighter received blows from a metal bar on his arm. The youths fled the scene.

Riot police were called in from nearby Reims and will remain in Saint-Dizier throughout the weekend. No arrests were made.

"There are always high tensions in this housing project," said Yves Guillot, state administrator for the Haute-Marne region. Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie condemned the violence in a visit to the town early yesterday.

Police have little or no control in some housing projects, where they face insults, projectiles or worse. Firefighters also come under attack and often require a police escort when they are called out.

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