VILLIERS-LE-BEL - French police launched raids
in a Parisian suburb early on Monday, arresting
33 people they suspected of being involved in violent clashes
that broke out in the area in November, a police source said.
About a thousand police officers were involved in the
operation, which began at about 6 a.m. (0500 GMT) in
Villiers-le-Bel, to the north of Paris, and neighbouring
Karim Hakiki, FRANCE24’s special envoy to the suburb of
Villiers-le-Bel reports: “We’ve seen the police coming out
of several buildings with computer hard drives and some
suspects. The to-and-fro of the police went on from 6:00 to
10:00 am this morning. Residents have been surprised by
the large size of this operation and speak of provocation, less
than one month after the suburbs plan presented by Nicolas
Sarkozy and Fadela Amara.”
Prosecutor Marie-Therese de Givry told reporters:
"Inquiries conducted by the police services since November
allowed 36 suspects to be identified, of whom 25 have for the
moment been called in for questioning. The operation has gone
well so far."
“Instead of creating students, we are in the midst of creating
potential prisoners which the state will be responsible for,” says
Armand Atonga, leader of the 8th Avenue association in the
suburb of Villiers-le-Bel, when questioned by FRANCE 24.
(The association is responsible for placing young people in to
educational, sport and cultural work environments.)
“There is no doubt that questioning is necessary, and that the police
have to react to what happened last November. But nothing is done
randomly: they have chosen to carry out this operation under the
media’s eye at a time when Sarkozy is low in the opinion polls.”
Atonga further explains that the police presence was practically
non-existent in the weeks following the riots. “The police were very
discreet around here during the month of December. Then there was a
little provocation on their part about three weeks ago. After which time,
the police patrols increased.”
How will this morning’s operation be perceived?
“They are questioning people who were not involved in
organizing riots,” says Atonga. “The young are very awkward at
everything they do. Therefore it’s very easy to target a few and pull them
in for questioning. I don’t think there will be much reaction to what has
happened this morning.”
About 60 police officers were injured in the November
clashes, which followed the death of two boys in a motorcycle
accident with a police car in Villiers-le-Bel.
A library, several public buildings and dozens of cars were
burned during the unrest, which reawakened memories of the riots
in poor French suburbs in 2005 when youths torched thousands of
cars during weeks of clashes with police.
Residents of the multi-ethnic run-down housing estates in
the Paris suburbs have cited high unemployment, poverty, police
victimisation, and poor housing as factors which contributed to
simmering tensions and the outbreak of violence.
However, President Nicolas Sarkozy said in November the
violence in Villiers-le-Bel was the work of a "thugocracy" of
criminals and not the result of social deprivation.
A junior minister, Andre Santini, also took a firm line on
"A commissioner was beaten up, police were fired on, the
government can't let that pass," Santini told France 2
television on Monday after the raids had been launched.
"I think it is normal for the government to show that there
are no lawless zones."