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Riot erupts in French town as veiled woman claims police brutality

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3 min

A riot erupted in a town near Paris on Friday night after police stopped and charged a woman wearing the Islamic face-covering veil. Residents accused police of using violence against the woman's family, while police unions say her husband attacked an officer.

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Interior Minister Manuel Valls on Saturday described the violence as "unacceptable", adding that a large contingent of police was present in Trappes, where the riot toook place.

Several hundred people gathered outside the town's police station on Friday evening as word spread of the incident.

Violence broke out, with bus shelters destroyed and dustbins set on fire, and riot police and a helicopter were summoned to the scene.

A boy was injured by a police flashball and hospitalised, local people to the AFP news agency. Police unions say that two police officers were injured.

Calm was restored at about 01.00am as Ramadan prayers started, although residents reported some violence later in the night.

The clashes were a response to the arrest of a man whose wife was stopped and charged by police on Thursday for wearing a face-covering niqab, illegal under French law since 2011.

According to police unions, the man hit one of the officers and tried to strangle him.

But, in a statement on the Al Kanz website, his wife, who identifies herself as Najaf, denies that she or her husband resorted to violence and accuses the police of brutality.

Explaining that the couple were accompanied by their four-year-old son and her mother, she claims that police forced her husband to the ground and handcuffed him because he told them to leave her mother alone.

Explainer - the background to France's burka debate

She also says that police grabbed her veil and pushed her onto a car bonnet and that both she and her husband were insulted.

The Committee Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), which released the statement, says that "several witnesses" back up Najaf's version of events.

On 14 July in Trappes two men insulted a veiled woman, one drawing a knife, before a man came to her aid.

The two, who reportedly had previously been involved in racist incidents, were jailed for two months and fined.

Right-wing politicians have condemned the rioting.

Nice's outspoken mayor, Christian Estrosi, called on the government to "take action and stop being laxist".

And Eric Ciotti, like Estrosi an MP for the mainstream right UMP, tweeted, "The republic must not back down in face of sectarianism, alas, the socialists have already given in for electoral reasons."

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