- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

MARSEILLE, France (Agence France-Presse) — French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday gave details of a new railway police force to deter violent incidents such as the ordeal suffered by passengers on a regional train along the Mediterranean coast on New Year’s Day.

The announcement came hours after a group of youths blocked a train at a suburban Paris station and attacked police late Sunday.

The youths blocked the train at Chenay-Gagny station by repeatedly pulling the alarm signal. They threw stones at police who intervened with tear gas and made eight arrests.

Yesterday, the service on the RER train network remained disrupted as staff refused to serve the train unless security was improved.

The creation of the new train-security force was triggered by press coverage of a rampage on the Nice-Lyon train after New Year’s Eve celebrations in which a gang of youths — believed to be North African immigrants — vandalized several train cars, robbing passengers and sexually assaulting a young woman.

In a recent poll for Ouest-France newspaper, 32 percent of those questioned said they felt unsafe on French trains, either often or occasionally.

Last Thursday, Mr. Sarkozy implied that initial reporting of the New Year’s Day incident was exaggerated, saying that though he did not wish to “minimize the suffering of the victims … the shock of what happened was worse than the reality.”

Only three persons have filed complaints about that incident.

Travelling on the same Nice-Lyon service yesterday, Mr. Sarkozy said the new force would comprise 2,540 officers, of whom 700 would be newly recruited into the police.

“What it will mean is 250 patrols every day on trains in France. The idea is to get it through to certain [violent gangs] that impunity on our regional trains is a thing of the past,” he said.

“With trains that cross through several [counties], the same police officers will ensure security on the whole route, whereas before we were handicapped by competing competences between different services and areas,” Mr. Sarkozy said.

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