Sarkozy promises tough stance on violent gangs
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised a tougher stance against gang violence in France. More than 200 organised gangs exist in the country, with around 80 percent of them based in the Paris area.
Reuters - French President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded tougher penalties for gang members on Wednesday and promised to tackle youth violence head on.
A gang of hooded youths descended on a French school last week, wielding metal bars and hammers, injuring around a dozen students and teachers in a daylight raid that shocked France.
Sarkozy visited the school in a tough Paris suburb on Wednesday, flanked by senior ministers, and said more measures were needed to halt the violence.
"The very fact of being in a gang should be a crime," he told reporters. "I have no intention of letting this kind of thing take root."
There are believed to be more than 200 such organised gangs in France, with around 80 percent of them based in the Paris area. Police say regular fights break out between the various groups, terrorising locals and leaving a trail of destruction.
Sarkozy told his Justice Minister Rachida Dati to draw up new laws to combat gang culture, calling for a three-year prison term for anyone involved in acts of group violence. He also demanded more intensive policing of trouble spots.
"If the thugs want to take on the Republic, then the response of the Republic will be force and justice," he said.
France's underprivileged suburbs, home to many of the country's Arab and African immigrants, were rocked by three weeks of rioting in 2005, leaving thousands of cars torched and hundreds of people injured.
Residents complain that they are largely cut off from mainstream society, with little chance of finding work or moving up the social ladder.
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