2007-11-30 Sarah Elzas
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Who predicted a riot?

Riot police face young residents of Villiers-le-Bel, a northern Paris suburb, while a garbage truck burns in the background, during clashes late MondayRiot police face young residents of Villiers-le-Bel, a northern Paris suburb, while a garbage truck burns in the background, during clashes late Monday
This fall the French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been facing tests of his policies—from strikes against his pension reforms, to protests against his education changes---now he's facing a challenge to his urban policies.

Dozens of police officers were injured Monday and Tuesday evening in a northern Paris suburb when angry young people threw stones, Molotov cocktails and even shot at them with hunting guns.

They event that set off the violence was the death on Sunday of two teenaged boys whose mini-motorcycle collided with a police car.

The violence had pretty much calmed down by Wednesday- and was mainly contained to the paris region- The whole situation has rasied the spectre of massive riots 2 years ago throughout the country— RFI's Sarah Elzas has been following the story and the reactions around it.

So, what happened here? Why did this spiral into violence?

Residents walk past a car that was burnt overnight during clashes between youths and police in Villiers-le-Bel, a northern Paris suburb, TuesdayResidents walk past a car that was burnt overnight during clashes between youths and police in Villiers-le-Bel, a northern Paris suburb, Tuesday
Sarah: Well, it's clear by the intensity of the reactions to these tow kinds deaths that this is a deep problem- of resentment to the police, and perhaps even bigger than that.

There is an official investigation inot what actually happened Sunday night- But it's not really about what actually happened- but about the perception of what happened.

People are angry that the police didn't do more to investigate right away- and at this point relations are so bad between police and the neighbourhood, that even if the truth comes out- no one will believe it

Our reporter Brent Gregston went out to Villiers le Bel and met a retired police officer who sums it up:

police officer: "What's clear is that there are neighbourhoods where the police has trouble entering- And systematically when there's an incident, it's seen as the fault of the police- So even if the conclusion here is that the police didn't do anything- that will always been contested by the young people and their families"

So-why is the relationship so bad? There were riots in 2005, and supposedly the result was that problems were going to be fixed?

Sarah: Well, exactly-There were promises- and some money has been spent on these poor suburbs and neighbourhoods-- but what is probably needed is a systematic overhaul- which hasn't been done

The minister in charge of urban affairs is supposed to provide recommendations in January of how to reform the suburbs- But the problem stretches farther than housing projects- You've got systemic discrimination in employment—in a job market with really high unemployment.

This doesn't necessarily directly affect the teenagers who are directly involved in this violence—but it does affect the mood around them, and foments the disappointment and anger

What has President Sarkozy's reaction been?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, second right, and Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, right, visit an unidentified police officer injured during clashes with riotersFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy, second right, and Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, right, visit an unidentified police officer injured during clashes with rioters
In a speech to a group of police officers on Thursday he stressed that these riots had nothing to do with a systemic problem- but rather were the result of a band of hooligans.

When he went to visit some of the injured police officers on Wednesday, he insisted that those responsible be brought to justice:

President Sarkozy: "Those who take the responsibility of shooting at public servants will find themselves in court- This has a name: it's called "attempted murder". We'll find the shooters—we'll spend what we need to do that, Those who took on this responsibility will have to explain themselves to this country's justice system."

So what you see here is Sarkozy refusing to aknowledge a lot of the anger and frustration that gave rise to this outpouring of violence.

One thing to remember- Sarkozy got elected partly because of his attitude towards the 2005 riots—as interior minister before and during those riots, he gained a reputation of a tough-on delinquience, zero-tolerance stance

He has a balancing act to do now- between calming these violent uprisings- but also appeasing the middle class of france, which doesn't know much about the problems that gave rise to the anger-

In fact, he was elected with a mandate to reform the economy, to increase jobs and reduce unemployment- And on some level, if he does manage to do that, it may solve many of these problems-

A large part of the anger is people feel discriminated against for jobs- and angry that they aren't integrated- if there were more jobs, that might gloss over the proble

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