PARIS (Reuters) – Crowds of youths targeted riot police with fireworks and torched rubbish bins in a third night of unrest on the outskirts of Paris where a heavy police presence to enforce a lockdown has exacerbated tensions.
France’s banlieues — high-rise, low-income neighbourhoods that encircle many of its cities — are frequently flashpoints of anger over social and economic inequality and allegations of heavy-handed policing.
In Villeneuve-La-Garenne, where the trouble first flared on Saturday after a motorcyclist crashed into the open door of a police car, youths aimed volleys of fireworks down streets lined with housing blocks towards police lines.
France’s lockdown permits people to leave home only to buy groceries, go to work, seek medical care or exercise. Some local residents said officers deliberately opened the door into the path of the motorcyclist, who required surgery to his leg. An investigation was underway, police said.
Unrest also broke out on the night of Monday to Tuesday in the neighbouring districts of Gennevilliers, Clichy-La-Garenne and Asnieres.
“The police are moving through the streets, LBDs and shields at the ready. Multiple fireworks,” tweeted Clement Lanot, a freelance journalist, at around midnight as violence broke out.
MEMORIES OF 2005
In 2005, the deaths of two youths fleeing police in a northern Paris suburb triggered nationwide riots that lasted three weeks.
“It’s taking a turn that reminds me of 2005,” said Yves Lefebvre, the head of France’s biggest police union, SGP Unite.
“What I fear is that it will explode in the banlieues. It may get very difficult.”
Police resources were being stretched by an absenteeism rate of about 10%, Lefebvre said, with officers off sick, in isolation or having to look after children during the lockdown.
“If tomorrow we’re confronted by widespread urban violence, we would have trouble keeping on top of it unless a curfew was put in place, and the army called in to help enforce it,” Lefebvre added.
A spokesperson for the national police force declined to comment on the possible need for a curfew if the situation deteriorated.
The Alliance police union reported sporadic outbreaks of unrest in working low-income towns in the Yvelines region, west of the greater Paris region. Police cars were vandalised, fireworks let off and projectiles hurled at officers.
Julien Le Cam, head of the Alliance union in the Yvelines, said officers from investigative units were being redeployed to street patrols to maintain numbers.
“Normally one town is ‘on duty’ and they pass the baton. Last night it was all of them,” said Le Cam. “There were violent groups in all our difficult zones looking for contact with the police.”
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