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80 French officers injured in Paris riots

30 of 82 injured officers were hit by buckshot

The Associated Press

VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France — Rampaging youths rioted for a second night in Paris' suburbs, firing at officers and ramming burning cars into buildings. At least 80 officers were injured, a senior police union official said Tuesday.

(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
The overnight violence was more intense than during the three weeks of rioting in 2005, said the official, Patrice Ribeiro. He said "genuine urban guerrillas with conventional weapons and hunting weapons" were among the rioters.

On Monday night, youths were seen firing buckshot at police and reporters. About 30 of 82 injured officers were hit by buckshot, Ribeiro told The Associated Press. Rioters also hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at police, authorities said.

Police made six arrests, authorities said.

Youths, many of them Arab and black children of immigrants, again appeared to be lashing out at police and other targets seen to represent a French establishment they feel has left them behind.

"Police officers were targeted with hunting weapons; a certain number of them were wounded by lead shot," said Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie. "This is totally unacceptable," she said, adding there were six serious injuries, "people who notably were struck in the face and close to the eyes."

The use of firearms added a dangerous new dimension to the rioting. Firearms are widespread in France, and police generally carry guns. Such weapons, though, were rarely used in the 2005 riots that spread to poor housing projects nationwide.

The current riots were triggered by the deaths of two teens killed in a crash with a police patrol car on Sunday in Villiers-le-Bel, a blue-collar town in Paris' northern suburbs.

Residents claimed that officers left the crash scene without helping the teens, whose motorbike collided with the car. Officials cast doubt on the claim, but the internal police oversight agency was investigating.

The 2005 riots also started in the suburbs of northern Paris after two teens were electrocuted in a power substation while hiding from police.

The two teens killed Sunday were both black. They were identified in French media only by their first names, Lakhami, 16, and Mouhsin, 15.

A recent study by the state auditor's office indicated that money poured into poor French suburbs in recent decades had done little to solve problems vividly exposed by the 2005 riots, including discrimination, unemployment and alienation from mainstream society.

Despite decades of problems and heavy state investments to improve housing and create jobs, the depressed projects that ring Paris are a world apart from the glitzy boulevards and tourist attractions of the French capital. Police speak of no-go zones where they and fire fighters fear to patrol.

There have long been tensions between France's largely white police force and the ethnic minorities trapped in poor neighborhoods with high unemployment.

"The problem of bad relations between the police and minorities is underestimated," said criminologist Sebastien Roche.

Suspicion of the police and government officials runs high among residents of the bland housing project where the two teens were killed.

Rioting and arson first erupted in Villiers-le-Bel on Sunday night. It grew worse and spread Monday night to at least five other towns north of Paris.

Several hundred youths organized in small groups led the rioting in Villiers-le-Bel. Rioters rammed burning cars into buildings, trying to set them on fire, authorities said. Arsonists struck the municipal library, leaving burned books scattered on the floor. They attacked shops and other businesses and torched more than 70 vehicles, authorities said.

"There was a lot of fear," according to Villiers-le-Bel resident Farida Si Said.

Police face "a situation that is far worse than that of 2005," said Ribeiro, national secretary of the Synergie police union. "Our colleagues will not allow themselves to be fired upon indefinitely without responding," he warned on RTL radio.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is visiting China, appealed for calm and called a security meeting with his ministers for Wednesday on his return to France. The violence and the use of firearms against officers presented his government, in office since May, with a stern test.

The rioting youth "want Sarkozy. They want him to come and explain" what happened to the two teens, said Linda Beddar, a 40-year-old mother of three in Villiers-le-Bel. Beddar woke Tuesday to find the library across from her house a burned-out shell after youths set in on fire the night before.

Sarkozy was interior minister in charge of police during the 2005 riots and his government appears keen to avoid a repeat.

"We will not let go. We will fight with all the force the nation is capable of," Prime Minister Francois Fillon told firefighters in Villiers-le-Bel. He promised reinforced security for Tuesday night, and several trucks of riot police were on the outskirts of town.

Copyright 2007 USA TODAY

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