Riot engulfs troubled French district in north
PARIS (AP) -- 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. The police department in Amiens says at least 16 officers were hurt by the time the riot ended Tuesday, some by buckshot.
At the height of the confrontation, 150 officers -- both local and federal riot police -- faced off against the young men throughout the neighborhood. There were no arrests.
"The confrontations were very, very violent," Amiens Mayor Gilles Dumailly told the French television network BFM. Dumailly said tensions had been building for a number of weeks between police and the impoverished residents, whom he described as "people who are in some difficulty."
Police in Amiens said the riot involved about a hundred young men and began around 9 p.m. Monday, ending around 4 a.m. after federal reinforcements arrived. It wasn't immediately clear what caused the unrest, but there had been smaller confrontations with police over the past week, including one involving a weekend traffic stop that some local residents thought was unnecessarily violent.
Until Monday night the violence in Amiens had been on a smaller scale. By the time the latest confrontation was over, two school buildings had been burned, along with a dozen cars and trash cans used as flaming barricades. At least three bystanders were hurt when rioters yanked them from their cars, police said.
Earlier this month, the district in Amiens was among 15 areas declared the most troubled in France, and the government pledged more security and more money. Dumailly said he hoped tensions would improve with a plan to fix up the housing projects and offer more services.
"Public security is not just a priority but an obligation," French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday, speaking at a memorial for two gendarmes killed in June. "We owe it to the population, we owe it to the security forces."
He mentioned the violence in Amiens, as well as unrest in Toulouse, in southern France, where rival groups in two housing projects have been battling for a number of days.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls was expected in Amiens on Tuesday afternoon.
In 2005, violence raged unchecked for nearly a month, leaving entire neighborhoods in flames in far-flung suburbs that are home to France's housing projects. The violence in Amiens marked the first major unrest under Hollande, who took office in May.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)