- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006

MONTFERMEIL, France — As Parisian suburbs teeter between sullen resignation and violence, a hard-line mayor accused of provoking disaffected young people is defiantly refusing to soften his stand.

Xavier Lemoine and his family are under police protection after their home and the town hall were besieged this week when trouble reminiscent of last fall’s riots broke out in Montfermeil, a crime-ridden town northeast of Paris.

Mr. Lemoine, 46, is on the right of France’s conservative ruling party, the UMP. An admirer of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, he is contemptuous of critics, from the French left to a police union, that question his crackdown aimed at delinquents.

“We are seeing a trial of strength between those with an interest in ensuring that nothing changes on the estates and the authorities trying to restore law and order,” he said.

Faced with widespread delinquency, he said, his choice was between doing nothing and seeking ways to make his town safer by using the exceptional powers of executive action given to mayors in France. His most controversial move, forbidding teenagers from assembling in groups of more than three, has caused anger on the sprawling Les Bosquets estate.

The law was suspended after a legal challenge by left-wing opponents, but Mr. Lemoine then enraged criminal elements by making a witness statement leading to the arrest of a youth for assaulting a bus driver.

That arrest, and the detention of a burglary suspect’s mother during a police raid, provided sparks for the eruption of rioting in Montfermeil on Monday.

As well as attacking the town hall, rioters gathered at the mayor’s house, where he lives with his wife and seven children adjoining the estate, to rattle the gates, throw stones and clash with police.

France is still recovering from the shock of last year’s disturbances, which brought nightly widespread violence and vehicle-burning for three weeks, and has struggled for an effective response.

Detractors liken Mr. Lemoine to those of the far-right National Front. This he resents, pointing to firm friends among immigrant families and his wife’s adult literacy work.

“If saying life is impossible without basic respect and rules makes me right-wing or authoritarian, so be it,” he said.

Mr. Lemoine’s background — the suburban son of a salesman, who dropped out of school to join the French navy — gives him some understanding of young people’s feelings of uselessness, but he rejects lawlessness as an acceptable response.

At the rundown, graffiti-covered tenements, the mayor’s words were greeted with derision.

“He is not even beginning to do his job,” said Nadia, 33, a French woman of Algerian descent. “Apart from the state of the buildings and lack of respect for Arabs, blacks and Turks, his council does not even invest in traffic ramps to protect the children.”

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