French riots: Police to stand trial over teen deaths

France was gripped by three weeks of rioting in 2005.
Image caption France was gripped by three weeks of rioting in 2005

Two police officers are to go on trial for failing to help two teenagers whose 2005 death by electrocution in Paris triggered huge riots in French suburbs.

The two are alleged to have chased Zyed Benna and Bouna Traore, leading them to take refuge in a power substation.

It is alleged the officers failed to raise the alarm even though they knew the youths were in danger.

Defenders say the boys knew the danger and police are being scapegoated to appease ongoing anger over the riots.

The officers are to face a jury eight years after the deaths of the youths, aged 15 and 17, following a high court decision to repeal earlier rulings blocking them from trial.

Image caption Zyed Benna, left, and Bouna Traore were electrocuted in a Paris suburb

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris said the delay in bringing them to court highlights the sensitivities that surround the case in France.

The October 2005 incident in Clichy-Sous-Bois, a low-income suburb of Paris largely populated by North African immigrants and their French-born descendants, inflamed existing tensions between residents and police.

Violence escalated and spread to other housing estates across France with nightly clashes causing damage to hundreds of public buildings and leading to thousands of arrests.

At the height of the riots, then President Jacques Chirac declared a national state of emergency.

Jean-Pierre Mignard, a lawyer for the families of two teenagers, said he was reassured by the decision to try the police officers.

"This is all that we wanted," he told Le Monde newspaper.

The two officers are accused of "non-assistance to people in danger". It is alleged that they started chasing the two teenagers for no particular reason.

French police reports at the time of the incident said there was no chase and the two teenagers entered the substation as a result of a tragic misunderstanding.

A third youth who had accompanied Benna and Traore but escaped with injuries was later quoted by police saying they had all been aware of the danger, which was clearly signposted at the station.

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