Riots blamed on 'polygamous Africans'

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Senior French politicians have been accused of "blatant racism" after linking the suburban riots to polygamy among African immigrant families.

The head of the ruling centre-right party in the national assembly and an employment minister both suggested unruly teenagers from large, polygamous families had helped to cause the four-weeks of violence in the country's poor suburbs.

Bernard Accoyer, leader of President Jacques Chirac's UMP party in the national assembly, said that polygamy was "certainly one of the causes" of France's worst urban violence for four decades.

Gérard Larcher, the junior employment minister, was also quoted as saying that polygamous families generated "antisocial" behaviour. He said his remarks were "an appeal for a debate on the issue, rather than a value judgement". A shortage of jobs in the suburbs, some of which have 40 per cent youth unemployment, was a more direct cause of the unrest.

Although officially illegal in France, multiple marriages are tolerated if they took place before the family emigrated. Women's rights groups say there may be as many as 30,000 polygamous families in France. But anti-racism campaigners expressed revulsion yesterday that mainstream politicians should give such a "prejudiced and distorted" view of the riots.

MRAP, an anti-racist group, said the rioting youths were mostly French citizens, from ethnically Arab, African, French and eastern European families. "Blaming such a complex problem on polygamy among a minority of African families is blatant racism. We will consider whether to bring legal actions against these people."