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Shootings reignite debate over 'crime capital' Marseille


The killing of two men within a few hours of each other in Marseille on Thursday has reignited the debate as to how to tackle the longstanding crime problem in France’s second city, where 15 people have already been murdered this year.


For the citizens of Marseille, a city dubbed France’s "crime capital", it was a familiar story: two men gunned down on the streets within hours of each other in suspected gang-related killings.

The only factor that set Thursday’s killings apart from the year's previous murders was that one of the victims, 30-year-old Adrien Anigo, was the son of a prominent figure: Olympique Marseille football club president José Anigo.

Fifteen people have already been murdered in similar killings in Marseille since the beginning of the year, while 2012's toll came in at 24. Most of these murders have been related to gangs involved in drug trafficking.

The city's overall murder rate, at 5.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, is more than five times the nationwide figure.

The latest killings, and the media attention they have received in France, have pushed the government to make fresh promises to crack down on crime in Marseille and tackle the city’s longstanding drug problem.

Interior minister calls for ‘national pact’ on crime

France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls on Thursday called for a “national pact” to solve the crisis, with an emergency “roundtable” meeting involving all the city’s elected officials set to be held on Saturday morning.

“I asked the regional prefect and the chief of police to hold a meeting with all the elected officials to define how they can work together [to tackle this problem] as soon as possible,” said Valls.

“We need to bring everyone around the table to give hope back to Marseille.”

But for those tasked with solving Marseille’s crime problem, coming up with a fresh and effective approach could prove challenging.

Successive federal governments have vowed to deal with the issue through various security measures, without much progress being made.

In September last year, France’s Socialist government unveiled a plan aimed at stemming the violence in Marseille once and for all. Around 230 extra police were deployed in the city, while certain sectors in the north and south of the city were declared "priority security zones".

But despite these measures, more killings followed, prompting Valls and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in August to announce they were sending 130 more riot police and 24 investigative officers to Marseille.

With the latest bloodshed in the city suggesting these measures have yet to prove effective, questions have been raised as to whether simply increasing police numbers once more will make a significant difference.

Le Pen: government crime measures just ‘smoke and mirrors’

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front, on Friday dismissed Valls’s latest attempt to tackle crime in Marseille as nothing more than “smoke and mirrors”.

“The grand declarations saying ‘we will increase the number of police, we will gather around the table’, are just smoke and mirrors designed to calm the general public, who realise that the interior minister is totally incapable of restoring security, not just in Marseille but the whole of France,” she said in a joint interview with Radio Classique and the LCI news channel.

For Le Pen, Marseille’s high crime rate stems from endemic problems that spread to the top of France’s judicial and policing institutions.

“It is not just a problem of staff numbers,” she said, suggesting police were not being deployed in the most crime-ridden areas.

“They [the police] say to themselves ‘we are here but we are given the order to do nothing, not to go into a neighbourhood, not to intervene’.”

Increasing police numbers not the answer

Other critics have claimed that rather than merely upping police presence, tackling Marseille’s crime problems must begin by addressing underlying issues such as the city’s high unemployment and poverty rates and the marginalisation of immigrant communities.

Hervé Morin, president of France’s New Centre party, accused Valls of using the same failed methods for tackling crime as previous governments.

"Manuel Valls has taken the same approach as [then interior minister] Nicolas Sarkozy from 2002 to 2007,” he told BFM-TV.

“Whenever there is a problem, he says that it will get better by putting additional resources in place or changing this or that penal procedure. If it worked, we would know by now."


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