France fears renewed unrest from the offspring of Arab and African immigrants
When the call came about a car burglary in this raw suburb north of Paris one night last weekend, three officers in a patrol car rushed over, only to find themselves surrounded by 30 youths in hoods throwing rocks and swinging bats and metal bars.
Neither tear gas nor stun guns stopped the assault. Only when reinforcements arrived did the siege end. One officer was left with broken teeth and in need of 30 stitches to his face.
The attack was rough but not unique. In the past three weeks alone, three similar assaults on the police have occurred in these suburbs that a year ago were aflame with the rage of unemployed, undereducated youths, most of them the offspring of Arab and African immigrants.
In fact, with the anniversary of those riots approaching in the coming week, spiking statistics for violent crime across the area tell a grim tale of promises unkept and attention unpaid. Residents and experts say that fault lines run even deeper than before and that widespread violence could flare up again at any moment.
"Tension is rising very dramatically," said Patrice Ribeiro, the deputy head of the Synergie-Officiers police union. "There is the will to kill."
The anger of the young is reflected in the music popular in the suburbs. In her latest album, the female rap singer Diam's accuses Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy of being a "demagogue" and the police of hypocrisy. The rapper Booba proclaims that "Maybe it would be better to burn Sarko's car," while Alibi Montana, another rapper, warns Sarkozy, "Keep going like that and you're going to get done."
Next Friday is the one-year anniversary of the electrocution death of two teenagers as - rumor had it - they were running from the police in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.
The tragedy triggered three weeks of violence in which rioters throughout France torched cars, trashed businesses and ambushed police officers and firefighters, plunging the country into what President Jacques Chirac called "a profound malaise."
Last month, a leaked law enforcement memo warned of a "climate of impunity" in Seine-Saint-Denis, the notorious district north of Paris, where clusters of suburbs like Clichy-sous-Bois and Epinay-sur-Seine are located.
It reported a 23 percent increase in violent robberies and a 14 percent increase in assaults in the district of 1.5 million people in the first half of 2006, complaining that young, inexperienced police officers were overwhelmed and that the court system was lax. Only one of 85 juveniles arrested during the unrest had been jailed, it added.
In all of France, according to the Ministry of Interior, 480 incidents of violence against the police were recorded in September, a 30 percent increase from the month before.
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