Thursday, April 26, 2007

France: African immigrants threaten violence if Sarkozy wins

Adam Sage:

Koné Jaoussou stood in a doorway on the infamous Grande Borne council estate, shaking his head at the prospect of a victory for Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election.

“If Sarkozy wins this place is going to explode again,” said the 28-year-old immigrant from Mali as he recalled the violence that rocked La Grande Borne in 2005 and again last year. “There’ll be riots here and in the suburbs all over France.”

Mr Jaoussou’s views are shared widely among the 11,000 people who live on the bleak 1970s estate in Grigny, outside Paris, the home to 52 different nationalities.

Many say that the youths, who have come to see Mr Sarkozy as a figure of hate, would greet his election with a fresh round of firebomb attacks on cars, buses and the police.

Similar rumours have been circulating on other troubled suburban estates and senior police officers appear to be taking them seriously.

Privately they say they are preparing for clashes if Mr Sarkozy is elected on May 6.

“We have to be ready for these gangs to demonstrate like they do on New Year’s Eve,” one high ranking officer told Le Figaro, referring to the street battles that have become an annual ritual in the suburbs.

Zair Issa, 18, who is also from Mali, agreed on the likelihood of a violent response to the election of the centre-right candidate as he joined in the conversation with Mr Jaoussou. Wearing dark glasses, a large metal chain and a T-shirt with the words “Ghetto Class” across the chest, he said that the hardline former Interior Minister was viewed as the enemy by youths in France’s immigrant communities. “It’s because of him that we get police identity checks all the time,” he said. “It’s oppressive.”

Jean-François Charmand, 38, a painter and decorator with flip-flops on his feet and a cannabis joint in his hand, said that Mr Sarkozy’s crackdown on crime had served to unleash police brutality on ethnic minorities.

“If Sarkozy’s elected it’s going to be chaos,” he said, fingering a multi-coloured necklace. “We’re going to have even more police coming after les blacks and even less freedom than we do now.”

Mr Sarkozy’s image in la banlieue is used by his opponents as proof that he would be unable to heal the rifts within French society.

Their attempt to portray him as a dangerously divisive figure will be one of the keys to the election.

However, on La Grande Borne estate — where only 44 per cent of adults are in work — there was evidence to support his claim that France needs radical change.

Cats scavenged on rubbish uncollected on the pavements. A burnt-out car was visible in the car park. And a young woman sat on a table outside one of the council blocks.

“Don’t talk to her,” said a youth standing in a doorway.

The teenager — probably a spotter for a gang that pays him to alert drug dealers to the arrival of police — approached menacingly. “Get away,” he said.

Mr Jaoussou said that the youth was typical of a generation that had adopted a ghetto mentality.

“The young people around here feel rejected and you can understand why,” he said. “As far as the French are concerned blacks are fit only to be cleaners and manual workers.”

Banlieue blues

Sarko vs. Sego: May the Immigrant Win

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