Police fight running battles with youths outside Paris

Versailles (France) (AFP) –


French police fought running battles Saturday night in a poor suburb northwest of Paris with groups of young men who burnt a circus school and wounded two officers, the authorities said Sunday.

The trouble, which is said to be related to the pending demolition of a building block in the disadvantaged neighbourhood of Noe, started with youngsters throwing Molotov cocktails in the evening, according to a police source.

When officers arrived, they were attacked with projectiles and targeted with fireworks.

At the height of the confrontation, police were facing off with a group of about 30 men, said the source. Two police members sustained light injuries.

In the foray, the troublemakers burnt a circus tent, which its operator said had cost about 800,000 euros ($894,000) and where children from deprived backgrounds were being trained in the circus arts.

Two suspects were arrested.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner described the acts on Twitter as "cowardly and foolish", and said he was confident the police would identify and catch those who got away.

Mayor Catherine Arenou said the suburb had been caught for days in the grip of criminal acts by youngsters in the Noe neighbourhood who keep smashing the street lights.

A police source said the violence had been sparked by the planned demolition of an apartment building which "threatens the underground economy" run by criminal gangs in the neighbourhood.

The planned demolition is part of an urban reconstruction programme, according to the mayor.

In April last year, a nursery school in the Noe neighbourhood was set ablaze, prompting local authorities to raise concerns about the plight of Paris' needier suburbs.

A report in June said rising property prices had widened the gap between rich and poor in the Paris region, where the number of people living in poverty has increased.

The Ile de France, with Paris at its centre, accounts for 30 percent of the national economy and is also home to the biggest immigrant population.

Average income fell while unemployment and the foreign-born population grew in 44 areas, mostly far-flung suburbs encircling the French capital, from 2001 to 2015.

The highly qualified and managerial classes mainly occupy central Paris and its wealthy western suburbs.