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France to boost police numbers in wake of riot

France's Socialist government pledged yesterday to reverse the recent shrinkage of police numbers after rioting that devastated part of the northern city of Amiens.

PARIS // France's Socialist government pledged yesterday to reverse the recent shrinkage of police numbers after rioting that devastated part of the northern city of Amiens.

Manuel Valls, the interior minister, said plans to sack 3,000 posts next year in the gendarmerie and the national police would be scrapped and that the two forces would benefit from the creation of 500 posts per year from 2013 onwards.

The additional numbers are relatively insignificant in comparison with France's total of more than 200,000 paramilitary gendarmes and police but politically significant in the current climate.

The extra officers will be deployed mainly in the new "priority security zones" the government plans to establish in 15 of France's most troubled neighbourhoods from September in an effort to prevent further cases of the violence that erupted in Amiens this week.

Amiens police said yesterday they had made five arrests in connection with the violence in the city's deprived northern quarter on Monday night.

All five, two of them minors, have been detained on suspicion of public order offences on the basis of thermal images taken from a police helicopter during rioting that left 16 police injured.

Police made no arrests during the unrest, apparently for fear of further inflaming the situation.

But Mr Valls has vowed to bring to justice those responsible for torching a school and sports centre and for firing live ammunition at the police.

One of the five arrested was a suspected ringleader of the rioters and has been charged with incitement to rebellion, a serious crime under French law which can be punished by a prison term of up to 10 years if the perpetrator was armed at the time of the offence.

Residents of Amiens' northern quarter say this week's eruption of violence was the result of years of police harassment of youth in a neighbourhood where two out of three people under 25 are out of work.

That depiction of events is disputed by the local police, who say they are fighting a losing battle against a culture of criminality.

The neighbourhood has been quiet since the early hours of Tuesday thanks to a total police presence of 250 officers, including 100 riot police equipped with water cannons.

The heavy police presence is expected to remain in place until the weekend at least.

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