Police fanned out around the outskirts of Paris amid fears of renewed
violence Friday as mourners marked the deaths a year ago of two teenagers that
ignited three weeks of riots in largely immigrant housing projects across
A French police investigator inspects the charred remains of
a city bus Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006, at the bus station of Nanterre, west
of Paris. The bus was set on fire on Wednesday night in Nanterre by a gang
of youths, after they forced passengers out. The attack came as France
prepares to mark on Friday the one-year anniversary of riots last year by
suburban youth, and raised the specter of a repeat of the three weeks of
The outburst of anger at the
accidental deaths of the youths, electrocuted in a power substation while hiding
from police, grew into a broader challenge against the French state that has
continued to simmer.
Attackers have torched four buses after forcing off passengers in the
outskirts of Paris in recent days, and police have been ambushed in several
organized attacks in recent weeks, raising fears of a new wave of violence
around the anniversary.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pledged Thursday to assign police to
protect buses serving some of the troubled communities, and more than 500 extra
riot police have been assigned to beef up security this week.
Last year's events jolted France into recognizing its failure to offer its 5
million Muslims, and its minorities ¡ª especially those of Arab and black African
origin ¡ª a fair shake. Instead of France's vaunted "egalite," or equality,
immigrants and their French-born children suffer police harassment, struggle to
find work, and live in cinderblock public housing rife with crime and poverty.
The government passed an equal opportunities law this spring and has poured
funds into "sensitive" areas, but disenchantment still reigns.
On Friday, several hundred residents of Clichy-sous-Bois and other
communities outside Paris held a silent march in honor of Zyed Benna and Bouna
Traore, the teens of African descent who took refuge in a power substation from
what they thought was a police chase on Oct. 27, 2005. In the minds of young
people here, it was fear of police that led to their deaths.
No police were visible at Friday's march.
Carrying a banner reading "Dead For Nothing," families of the teens led the
ethnically diverse crowd away from city hall toward the power station.
"They became a symbol in the projects. People came here in large numbers
because they wanted to show their solidarity," said a cousin of Traore who gave
her name as Coulibaly.
"I don't see why the violence should recur. That will not solve the
problems," she added.
A memorial to the youths was erected near city hall later Friday, though the
site where they died is adorned only with the graffiti and rubble that are the
signature of such neighborhoods.
Clichy-sous-Bois has no police station, so officers patrolling here come from
outside and have no connection to residents. There is no public transport and
few here have private cars, leaving most people virtually trapped. Unemployment
among its 28,000 residents is well above the 9 percent national average, at 23.5
percent, and rises to 32 percent for those between the ages of 15 and 24,
according to the newspaper La Croix.
France's inability to better integrate minorities and the recent violence
have become key issues in the campaign for next year's presidential and
Candidates for the opposition Socialist Party's presidential nomination
criticized the government's handling of the issue during a debate Thursday night
ahead of next month's party primary.
Former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius said the recent flare-up of violence
showed the government's policies are a "total failure."
"One year ago, Bouna and Zyed were burned to a cinder," he said. "Nothing has
changed" since then, he said.
Sarkozy, the interior minister and leading contender on the right, is blamed
by many for fueling the riots with hard-line statements about youths in the
"I have decided to mobilize all the mobile forces we dispose of in order to
serve those who take public transport," Sarkozy said following a meeting
Thursday evening with public transportation officials.
The 500 additional police officers pulled in to the outskirts of Paris this
week will be in five units meant to reinforce the 13 units already assigned to
"It's better to be over-prepared than to come up short," said Marc Gautron,
national secretary of the UNSA police union. "We want to be able to make the
maximum number of arrests if a bus or a person are attacked."
Another police union, Alliance, called for officers to stage protests in
front of city halls across France on Nov. 13.
"Police cannot be the only ones to confront the difficulties of the suburbs,"
said Alliance Secretary General Jean-Claude Delange.