- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

SEVRAN, France — A year after riots swept across France, vehicles are again burning, clashes between police and mostly ethnic immigrant youths are mounting, and tension in gritty suburbs like Sevran is in the air.

Gangs of youths torched four buses near the Paris suburbs late Wednesday after, in one case, forcing passengers off the vehicle at gunpoint, according to local reports. Youths have also attacked police with tear gas and weapons in recent weeks, sending at least one to the hospital.

“We cannot accept the unacceptable,” French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said yesterday. “There will be arrests … that is our responsibility.”

Giving a tour to a reporter of peeling housing projects in Sevran, Deputy Mayor Lakdar Femmami predicted more violence to come.

“All the ingredients are there,” said Mr. Femmami, a member of the Communist Party controlling the city government. “It’s the end of Ramadan, it’s school vacation and its the year-anniversary of the riots. The tension is visible.”

Located 10 miles northeast of central Paris, Sevran carries all the combustible elements that exploded in towns across France last year. More than a third of the town’s 47,000 residents are first- and second-generation Arab and African immigrants. Unemployment is high, soaring to 35 percent in some areas, more than three times the national average.

And Sevran has no lack of angry young men. Up to 40 percent of residents in some neighborhoods are under 25.

“They’re all French,” Mr. Femmami said of the largely ethnic-immigrant youths, “but they have one foot in France, and one foot in their parents’ country. And they are rejected by both countries.”

France’s riots were sparked exactly a year ago today with the accidental electrocution of two African youths, who may have been escaping police in the nearby suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Their death unleashed a storm of pent-up anger. Roving gangs of youths burned thousands of cars and hundreds of buildings, and clashed nightly with riot police for three straight weeks.

The center-right government offered a fractured response to the violence, arresting and imprisoning the perpetrators, but also vowing to tackle its root causes: poverty, unemployment and entrenched discrimination.

During a press conference yesterday, Mr. de Villepin ticked off a few of the accomplishments to date: nascent industrial zones spawning jobs for residents in low-income neighborhoods, more money for neighborhood associations and new low-income housing projects.

“Obviously, all the problems won’t be resolved in a day,” he said, “but the government is engaged in long-term actions, which we’re beginning to see effects.” But a number of analysts, lawmakers and ordinary citizens say little has changed.

“It doesn’t seem like a whole lot has been done,” said French immigration specialist Catherine Wihtol de Wenden. “The real problem is unemployment. But there’s still racism in hiring and very little mobility for youths. ”

With presidential elections just six months away, she and others say the center-right government, whose Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is eyeing a bid, has little incentive to implement significant and potentially controversial changes. Criticism of government inaction from leftist-controlled suburbs like Sevran can be colored by partisan politics.


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