Poverty riots spread in French suburbs


Rampaging youths rioted for a second night in Paris' suburbs, firing at officers and ramming burning cars into buildings. At least 77 officers were injured, a senior police union official said today.

The overnight violence was more intense than during three weeks of rioting in 2005, said the official, Patrice Ribeiro. He said that "genuine urban guerillas with conventional weapons and hunting weapons" were among the rioters.

The 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.

Rioting first erupted in Villiers-le-Bel on Sunday night. It grew worse and spread Monday night to other towns north of Paris. Rioters hurled stones and petrol bombs at police, authorities said.

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

Police are facing "a situation that is far worse than that of 2005," said Ribeiro, national secretary of the Synergie officers union.

"Our colleagues will not allow themselves to be fired upon indefinitely without responding," he warned on RTL radio. "They will be placed in situations which will become untenable."

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 his election victory in May, with a stern test.

Sarkozy was interior minister, in charge of police, during the 2005 riots. The violence two years ago also started in the suburbs of northern Paris, when two teens were electrocuted in a power substation while hiding from police.

On Monday night, youths were seen firing buckshot at police and reporters. A police union official said a round from a hunting rifle pierced the body armor of one officer, who suffered a serious shoulder wound. Ribeiro said 77 officers were injured.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said there were six serious injuries, "people who notably were struck in the face and close to the eyes."

In Villiers-le-Bel, arsonists set fire to the municipal library and burned books littered its floor. Shops and businesses also were attacked and more than 70 vehicles were torched, authorities said.

Violence also was reported in four other towns north of Paris and on the outskirts of Villiers-le-Bel, suggesting that the rioting was spreading.

Rioters rammed burning cars into buildings, trying to set them on fire, authorities said.

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

In Sunday's violence, eight people were arrested and 20 police officers were injured &

including the town's police chief, who was attacked in the face when he tried to negotiate with the rioters, police said. One firefighter also was injured.

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.

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