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France

French mayor on hunger strike for poor Paris suburb

© AFP

Text by Rachel HOLMAN

Latest update : 2012-11-12

Camped out in front of France’s National Assembly, Stéphane Gatignon, the mayor of Paris’s impoverished northeastern suburb of Sevran, entered the third day of a hunger strike on Sunday to demand more state help for his and other impoverished cities.

Dressed warmly in a black winter coat, Stéphane Gatignon, the mayor of Paris’s northeastern suburb of Sevran, sat outside France’s National Assembly on Sunday, holding a cup of steaming tea in his gloved hands. The liquid is just about the only thing the mayor can consume since he began a hunger strike three days ago to demand state help from the government for his nearly bankrupted city.

Once an industrial hub, Sevran has been blighted by poverty and rampant unemployment since a number of companies, including Kodak, were forced to close down operations there during the 1980s and 1990s. Ranked as one of the poorest cities in France, it has struggled with its limited financial resources to help get the local economy back on track.

Gatignon (centre) poses with two Sevran residents, Daniel Moret (left) and Katherine Troalen (right). © Rachel Holman

“We are in an extremely difficult situation,” Gatignon, a member of France’s Green party, told FRANCE 24. “We’ve been fighting for years. But the crisis has made things worse, so I decided to take extreme measures.”

Gatignon has asked the Socialist-led government for 5 million euros in subsidies to help Sevran meet its 2013 budget and demanded that grants for impoverished urban areas be increased by an additional 180 million euros. The National Assembly is due to vote on these grants, which are only expected to grow by 120 million euros, this coming Tuesday.

“In very concrete terms, if we don’t get the money, we will not be able to ask for a loan,” Gatignon said, explaining that Sevran would then no longer be able to pay businesses that work with the city. “Work on construction sites would have to stop, which would leave people unemployed.”

‘He’s fighting for us and for our children’

Despite a rapidly approaching winter, Gatignon has been camped out beside the National Assembly in a tiny blue tent since he began his hunger strike on Friday evening. His plight has attracted a steady stream of supporters, including members of government as well as a number of Sevran residents.

Hawthaman Dharmeraja, 28, came from Sevran to the National Assembly in Paris in a show of support for his mayor. © Rachel Holman

“[Gatignon] has been fighting ever since he first came into office in 2001,” Hawthaman Dharmeraja, who came out from Sevran to support the mayor, told FRANCE 24. “We’re asking for grants for impoverished urban areas so that projects can be put into place, whether it’s for a school or an organisation. Local organisations are beginning to disappear because there’s no money for them.”

Like Dharmeraja, Katherine Troalen and her partner Daniel Moret trekked out to Paris from Sevran on Sunday morning to show their support for the mayor.

“It’s a very courageous act because it doesn’t only concern Sevran, but all poor communities,” said Troalen, a 56-year-old retiree. “[He’s fighting] for us and for our children.”

Three days into his hunger strike, Gatignon said he felt that his cause was gaining traction. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls stopped by the National Assembly on Saturday morning to throw his weight behind the mayor. François Lamy, junior minister for French towns and cities, also announced the same day that Sevran would receive 4.7 million euros in funds for urban renewal that had been previously held up.

Lamy did, however, add, “It would have been more reasonable to sit around the table and discuss this beforehand.”
 

Date created : 2012-11-11

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