Amiens riot raises fears of wave of unrest
AMIENS, France - Agence France-Presse
Dozens of young men rioted in a troubled district in northern France after weeks of tensions, pulling drivers from their cars and stealing the vehicles, and burning a school and a youth center. AP Photo
A deprived area of the city of Amiens has been left devastated by rioting, raising fears of a wave of unrest as the economic outlook for France's poorest communities worsens.
Described by the local mayor as the product of mounting social tension aggravated by a lack of funding, the Amiens riot cast a shadow over President Francois Hollande's celebration Tuesday of 100 days since his election victory.
Overnight violence in the historic city left 16 police officers injured, a primary school severely damaged by fire and a sports centre completely destroyed, local officials said.
Clashes involving around 100 local youths and up to 150 police erupted late Monday in the rundown northern quarter of an otherwise prosperous city that is known for its university and 13th-century Gothic cathedral.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets and deployed a helicopter to quell the unrest after suffering injuries caused by buckshot, fireworks and other projectiles thrown by rioters.
The arrest was seen as insensitive as it came as many residents of the neighbourhood were attending a wake for a local 20-year-old who had died in a motorbike accident.
Gilles Demailly, the mayor of Amiens, said he had encountered a "scene of desolation" when he visited the affected area on Tuesday.
"There have been regular incidents here but it has been years since we've known a night as violent as this with so much damage done," he told AFP.
Demailly, a member of Hollande's Socialist Party added: "For months I've been asking for the means (to alleviate the neighbourhood's problems) because tension has been mounting here." Hollande's government has identified the northern quarter of Amiens as one of 15 "priority security zones" across the country which will be established from September.
The emphasis will be on tougher policing rather than on schemes to alleviate the impact of record unemployment and falling real incomes for the poorest sections of society.
Figures released Tuesday showed the French economy flat-lining in the second quarter of the year and most economists expect a further deterioration as Hollande's government cuts spending in most areas in order to reduce its budget deficit in line with eurozone requirements.
Trade unions battling job cuts across French industry have already warned of a "hot autumn" of protest unless the government eases up on the austerity drive.
Hollande on Tuesday promised a tough response to the unrest in Amiens.
"The state will mobilise all its means to combat these violent acts," Hollande said. "Security is not only a priority for us, it is an obligation."