Rioting in the northern French city of Amiens on Tuesday night left at least a million euros of damage with a nursery school, a community center and other buildings torched and cars set on fire. The violence left sixteen police officers injured from rocks, firebombs and buckshot and followed days of smaller clashes between youths who set dumpsters on fire and threw bottles and stones and police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
French media said that the violence was sparked by a police check on a driver said to be driving dangerously near a spot where local residents were holding a memorial service for a 20-year-old who had died in a motorbike crash last Thursday. About 150 police officers clashed with about 100 youths from the housing estates in Amiens from 9:00 pm until 3:00am.
Last night’s riots were the worst in France since 2005, when the death of two teenagers set off weeks of looting and car-burning in housing estates across the country. While the violence in 2005 opened a debate about social exclusion and deprivation for those who live in the housing estates, including many youth of North African origin, analysts say that little has changed for them, says the BBC.
Hollande Says “Our Priority Is Security”
The northern neighborhood of Amiens is classed among the fifteen most troubled in France and is supposed to receive more policing next month under the plans of the government of Socialist President Francois Hollande. Hollande has vowed to restore order and has sent his interior minister, Manuel Valls, to Amiens, “to say there once again that the state will mobilize all its resources to combat this violence.”
The French president is in the last days of his vacation and spoke from a southern town where he was meeting the family of two policewomen killed in June. With public confidence in him falling after his first 100 days in office, Hollande is eager to show that he is tough on security, one of the “hallmarks” of his center-right predecessor, Nicholas Sarkozy. The right National Front party has seized on the Amiens rioting as a reason to blame insecurity in France to “massive immigration.”
Hollande had also come under criticism earlier this summer after Valls authorized the dismantling of Roma encampments. Sarkozy had authorized the same two summers ago, but on the grounds that the camps were illegal and were further evidence for why France cannot allow uncontrolled immigration.
Most of the Roma are from Bulgaria and Romania, countries which are not members of the the Schengen agreement that allows visa-free travel in Europe; they are allowed to stay for three months but must leave if they do not have education or work visas. Residents are given free plane travel back to their country of origin and about $370; many simply return. Last week, French police dismantled Roma camps near northern Lille.
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AP Photo/Georges Charrieres