Thursday, October 26, 2006

More violence in French suburbs.

Tomorrow is the the anniversary of the riots that shook France’s impoverished suburbs and as we said earlier this week, tension has been growing in those areas.

Last Sunday, a group of youths forced passengers off a bus before setting it alight and then stoning fire fighters. Yesterday two other similar incidents took place near Paris and another one in the suburb of Lyon:

Masked assailants torched buses in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre and the eastern suburb of Bagnolet but passengers fled before the flames engulfed the vehicles. Television footage showed the burnt-out wrecks.
An empty, parked private coach was set on fire in Venissieux, a suburb of the eastern city of Lyon, and three youths ordered passengers off a bus in Athis Mons, south of Paris, and tried without success to set it on fire. (Swissnfo)

Then of course, the French political leaders are big on words:

"We cannot accept the unacceptable ... We refuse to see no-go zones created in our country," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told his monthly news conference. "There will be arrests and immediate, exemplary punishment."

Well, the French PM may very well refuse whatever he wants but the facts remain. Those attacks are, if nothing else, another sign of the failure of the ruling political majority after nearly five years at the head of the country.

A few ays ago, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported what the intelligence service of the French police said:

"Today, a certain amount of feverishness is very perceptible among some of the town's youths, who have become critical of the work done by local associations and the purpose of the projects started on their behalf." Thus, there are allegedly many who perceived the opening of a Youth Club as a stop-gap measure. The document, which deplores the state of mind of a "youth fringe in the housing projects" of Clichy as well as Montfermeil, who are described as "deliberately hostile to any change of focus", states that "it is to be feared that tension will increase as we get closer to 27 October". (source)

Of course, those incidents do not necessarily mean that the same riots are about to happen. But one should be wary – this is school holiday in France for the next 10 days (and the youths in those neighborhood have more time to kill, so to speak.). What's more, we are just months away from the presidential elections and the media coverage of those events are likely to make those youths feel like tv stars and get all excited at making the headlines. It would probably take some cathartic event, though, to trigger nationwide suburban violence again, just like it did last year.

At the same time, there may be some positive consequence too: the issues of integration of minorities and social ghettoization are likely to become major political issues as the campaign heats up for next year's presidential and parliamentary elections in France.

Side-note: The French media compared the attacks to “stage-coach hold-ups”. I guess the western-movie metaphor is appealing to the French. It is also quite common in France to compare crime-ridden areas to "old-time Chicago" (meaning the Chicago of Al Capone). So no matter what happens, the U.S. is a reference to the French - not always in the best sort of way though.

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