Europe

French riots: Amiens crowd jostles Manuel Valls

  • 14 August 2012
  • From the section Europe

France's interior minister has been jostled and jeered in the northern French city of Amiens where rioters have clashed with police.

Manuel Valls was in the city to hold meetings with officials after two nights of violence in which buildings and cars were set on fire.

Seventeen police officers were injured in Monday's clashes with dozens of youths, some of whom used live rounds.

A hundred extra police officers have been sent to Amiens as reinforcements.

Boos and curses

A group of about 100 young men confronted Mr Valls as he arrived at the town hall, accompanied by security guards.

"Calm down! Calm down!" he shouted as the crowd booed and cursed him.

He told a news conference that it was unthinkable that the rioters had targeted the police with weapons.

"Firearms! Can it be considered normal that people turn firearms on police? It's unacceptable... law and order must be restored," he said, adding that a small number of people were terrorising the local community.

The BBC's Christian Fraser, in Paris, says unrest in places like Amiens is often blamed on the widespread sense of alienation in these suburbs where youth unemployment can be as high as 40%. But, he says, local residents have blamed heavy-handed policing.

President Francois Hollande has vowed to beef up security resources to combat the violence, saying public security was "not just a priority but an obligation".

The interior ministry has sent an additional 100 police officers to Amiens, French media report. The city had already been classified as one of 15 "priority security zones" in the country, in need of additional policing.

'Desolation'

A leisure centre, school and vehicles were burned overnight on Monday amid the unrest in a rundown district of the city.

An official said damage estimated at a million euros (£790,000; $1.23m) had been done.

The clashes are believed to have started at about 21:00 (19:00 GMT), ending at about 04:00 once police reinforcements arrived. Up to 150 police officers are said to have used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the violence.

One police officer was in a serious condition, Mayor Gilles Demailly said, adding that the clashes had left behind a "scene of desolation".

But one woman told BFMTV she had personal experience of aggressive, heavy-handed policing, and insisted that what occurred was "not gratuitous violence".

"This is violence from anger! We're not animals. We vote and pay our taxes like everyone," said Sabrina Hadji.

In 2005, the deaths of two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois near Paris led to weeks of looting and car-burning in housing estates across France.

It sparked a debate about deprivation and social exclusion, but many analysts say little has changed for France's marginalised youth, many of whom are of North African origin.

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