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Traveller community, inmates riot in southeast France

Philippe Desmazes, AFP | Policemen stand near burnt cars following a series of violent incidents on October 20, 2015 at the railway station in Moirans, near Grenoble.

A traveller community in southeast France torched dozens of cars in violent protests while inmates at a nearby jail rioted Tuesday after authorities refused a prisoner’s request for prison leave to attend his brother’s funeral.

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The incident occurred less than two months after a similar flare-up involving travellers, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls demanded a firm response.

The term traveller community in France is used for groups of people with a nomadic or semi-sedentary lifestyle, including Roma or so-called New Age travellers.

Members of the local traveller community in the Alpine town of Moirans had requested temporary leave for two jailed members so that they could attend the funeral of a 17 year-old – a sibling of one of the two inmates – who had died in an accident last weekend while riding in a stolen car.

But a judge apparently turned down the request, the local town hall and prosecutor's office said.

Members of the community then blocked off a road, set fire to several cars and ransacked the restaurant at the town's train station, the town hall, in what local media described as scenes of "urban guerrilla fighting".

The authorities brought in 120 police and 100 firefighters to Moirans, who brought the situation under control in the early evening without casualties, officials said.

A riot also erupted in a prison at Aiton, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) away, where one of the prisoners is being held.

Around 20 inmates set fire to a passageway and destroyed the locks on their cells, according to a trade union official, who said a unit specialising in returning order to prisons had been called in.

A prison warden quoted by local daily newspaper Dauphiné libéré said at least twice as many inmates were involved in the riot, which lasted several hours.

“They smashed everything: tables, chairs, electrical appliances. They set fire to rubbish bins and blocked their cell locks,” he said.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls took to Twitter to condemn the "unacceptable violence" and demand "firmness... (and) restoration of order."

The violence comes less than two months after another traveller community in northern France blocked a motorway after authorities refused to temporarily release the son of a shooting victim to attend his father's funeral, with the opposition criticising the government's response as weak.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
 

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