AULNAY-SOUS-BOIS, France - A week of riots in poor neighborhoods outside Paris gained dangerous new momentum Thursday, with youths shooting at police and firefighters and attacking trains and symbols of the French state.
Facing mounting criticism, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin vowed to restore order as the violence that erupted Oct. 27 spread to at least 20 towns, highlighting the frustration simmering in housing projects that are home to many North African immigrants.
Police deployed for a feared eighth night of clashes, after bands of youths lobbing stones and petrol bombs ignored President Jacques Chirac's appeal for calm a day earlier.
"I will not accept organized gangs making the law in some neighborhoods. I will not accept having crime networks and drug trafficking profiting from disorder," Villepin said at the Senate in between emergency meetings called over the riots.
The streets were relatively calm early Friday, but dozens of firefighters battled a warehouse blaze in Aulnay-sous-Boisy.
The unrest cast a cloud over the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. In Clichy-sous-Bois â€” heart of the rioting â€” men filled the Bilal mosque for evening prayers, but streets were subdued with shops shutting early.
"Look around you. How do you think we can celebrate?" said Abdallah Hammo as he closed the tea house where he works.
Riots erupted in an outburst of anger in Clichy-sous-Bois over the accidental electrocution Oct. 27 of two teenagers who fled a soccer game and hid in a power substation when they saw police enter the area. Youths in the neighborhood suspect that police chased Traore Bouna, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, to their deaths.
Since then riots have swelled into a broader challenge against the French state and its security forces. The violence has exposed deep discontent in neighborhoods where African and Muslim immigrants and their French-born children are trapped by poverty, unemployment, racial discrimination, crime, poor education and housing.
let's not forget the fairly recent spat of housing fires that happened right under the Eiffel Tower's nose, killing roughy 60 immigrants, and sparking protests about France's housing poilicy: Franceâ€™s incendiary crisis
And now, 4 November, the riots have spread to Rouen, Dijon, and Marseille: BBC.
(And good links, BF: "How, in this comfortable capital of a nation which prides itself on its egalitarian instincts, is it possible for so many to live in such squalor?
I asked an official from Paris City Council. She sighed and gave an eloquent shrug.
"It's been a problem for years. We can't build more homes in the city centre. We have 100,000 people on the council waiting list and only 10,000, maybe 15,000, flats free each year."
Paris City Council has started renovating some of the tumbledown buildings.
But it is a slow process and property developers are more lucrative clients than the poor.
And there is another hurdle. Four hundred thousand immigrants in France live here illegally, without residence or work permits, so they have no right to council housing, even if it were available." From Living in squalor by the Eiffel Tower)
: Two teenagers die in electricity sub-station on 27 October. Successive nights of rioting follow rumours they were fleeing police. A number of people arrested or injured. Aulnay-sous-Bois: A flashpoint after violence spread from Clichy. Shots fired at police and cars and shops set ablaze. Further trouble in eight nearby suburbs, with more shots fired at police. Elsewhere in Paris: Reports of incidents in towns in the suburban departments of the Val-d'Oise, Seine-et-Marne and Yvelines. Reports of petrol bombs thrown at a police station in the Hauts-de-Seine. Elsewhere in France: Rouen, Lille, Toulouse, Nice and Marseille all see violence on Friday night.
OK, this time, Paris really is burning and taking nearby cities with it. Cars ablaze in Republique. 2300 police officers scrambling, military helicopters swarming, 250 arrested in 10 nights of rioting spreading like wildfire through schools and still going, is Paris facing it's Rodney King ? i like how they call it "unrest."