French government blasts violence in Paris suburbs
Three French cabinet ministers visited a cultural centre in the Paris suburb of Chanteloup-les-Vignes on Tuesday, which was burned at the weekend in incidents of urban violence that reflect tensions with local gangs.
The three government ministers visited the site and met with firefighters and police officers who were caught in an apparent ambush in the town some 30 kilometres west of Paris.
On Saturday evening, police officers and firefighters who had arrived to put out fires in litter bins were met with projectiles and Molotov cocktails from about 30 masked youths.
As the group clashed with the security forces, they vandalised a youth centre and set ablaze the tent of a circus school, which has been one of the city’s cultural establishments for three decades.
Calling the act “abhorrent and unacceptable”, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner promised that “justice would be done” in the town, which he visited with Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet and City and Housing Minister Julien Denormandie.
Attack angers community
Members of the community reacted angrily to the attack and its perpetrators.
“I learned everything here,” 15 year-old Hamza told the AFP news agency at the site of the destroyed building, where she had been taking circus classes for nine years.
“They respect nothing. Their little brothers and their neighbours study circus here, but they prefer to see it burn.”
Two suspects including one minor have been taken into custody and indicted in connection with the attack.
State officials said the building would be rebuilt within a year at an estimated cost of €800,000 and legal authorities announced measures to coordinate the activities of the community’s police, local council and court officials.
Drug gangs blamed
While anti-police violence serves as a reminder of the tensions that exploded into weeks of riots in suburbs around France in 2005, the recent attacks seem less provoked by heavy-handed policing than by gangs looking for bragging rights.
A video of the burning circus tent on Snapchat was overlaid with the words “the city is ours” and “anti-police here”.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe visited the site on Monday and suggested the violence may have been triggered by police efforts to fight drug trafficking in nearby neighbourhoods.
“We are perfectly aware that disrupting the work of drug dealers raises tensions,” Philippe said.
“We are determined to put an end to this trafficking and ensure that public order is restored and respected.”
Chanteloup-les-Vignes is at the heart of a massive urban renovation project, part of which would demolish a housing unit known for drug trafficking near the site of the attack.
The city’s mayor, Catherine Arenou, said youths of a neighbouring town had been increasing attacks on public infrastructure in recent weeks, notably smashing streetlights and plunging the area into darkness after nightfall.