x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

16 police officers hurt in French riot

Youths run amok as weeks of anti-police tension boil over.

French firemen inspect damage inside a leisure centre after overnight clashes where gangs of youths set cars and buildings ablaze in Amiens.
French firemen inspect damage inside a leisure centre after overnight clashes where gangs of youths set cars and buildings ablaze in Amiens.

PARIS // Dozens of young men rioted in a troubled district of northern France after weeks of growing tensions with the police boiled over.

They pulled drivers from their cars, stole the vehicles and burnt down a school and a leisure centre.

Police in the city of Amiens said at least 16 officers were injured by the time the riot ended early yesterday. Some were shot.

At the height of the confrontation, 150 officers - both local and federal riot police - faced off against the young men across the neighbourhood. There were no arrests.

"The confrontations were very, very violent," said Gilles Dumailly, the mayor of Amiens. He added that tensions had been building for a number of weeks between police and the impoverished residents, whom he described as "people who are in some difficulty".

Police said the riot involved about 100 young men and began at about 9pm on Monday. It ended at about 4am after federal reinforcements arrived.

It wasn't immediately clear what sparked the unrest, but there had been smaller confrontations with police over the past week, including one involving a weekend traffic stop that some local residents thought was unnecessarily violent. Until Monday, the violence had been on a smaller scale.

By the time the latest confrontation was over, two schools had been burnt, along with a dozen cars and bins that were used as flaming barricades.

At least three bystanders were hurt when rioters pulled them from their cars, police said.

Earlier this month, the district of Amiens where the riot broke out was among 15 areas declared the most troubled in France, and the government pledged more security and more money. Mr Dumailly said he hoped tensions would ease with a plan to renovate housing and provide more services.

"Public security is not just a priority but an obligation," the French president, Francois Hollande, said yesterday, speaking at a memorial in southern France for two police officers killed in June. "We owe it to the population, we owe it to the security forces."

He mentioned Amiens, as well as unrest in Toulouse, in southern France, where rival groups in two housing schemes have been battling for a number of days.

The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, was expected in Amiens yesterday.

In 2005, violence raged unchecked for nearly a month, leaving entire neighbourhoods in flames. The violence in Amiens marked the first major unrest since Mr Hollande took office in May.