Critics Complain About Lack of Change One Year After French Riots

Lisa Bryant

France is marking the first anniversary of rioting in the immigrant-heavy suburbs of Paris and there are worries the violence will occur again. The French government promised a series of measures to tackle the causes of last year's three weeks of unrest, but from the Paris suburb of Sevran, Lisa Bryant reports that critics argue little has changed.

Standing next to a sack of West African music CDs, Ricardo Elumbu watched the steady flow of commuters hurrying into the grimy train station at Sevran, a 20-minute ride from downtown Paris. Yellow leaves floated through the warm air, softening the edges of the towns cheerless housing projects where small groups of residents, most of them Africans, gathered outside to chat.

Elumbu took a break from trying to sell his CDs to talk to a reporter about what has changed in Sevran, a year after the riots. The answer according to Elumbu, a native Congolese, is not very much.

"There's no security in Sevran," Elumbu says. "For a few weeks after the riots, things calmed down. But then the police left and the youths started causing trouble again."

On Friday, residents of the nearby suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois staged a silent march commemorating the anniversary of the deaths of two African youths, who were reportedly fleeing police and accidentally electrocuted while hiding in an electrical power station. Their deaths unleashed three weeks of rioting across France. Roving gangs of youths burned thousands of cars, hundreds of buildings and clashed nightly with police.

Now, there are signs the violence is returning. Youngsters set several buses on fire around the Paris suburbs this week, after forcing passengers out, in one case at gunpoint. Other gangs attacked police with tear gas, sticks and rocks.

The French government has dispatched hundreds of riot police to the suburbs to prevent more unrest in the coming days. And French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has vowed to crack down on those who carried out the bus attacks.

As he showed a reporter around Sevran, Deputy Mayor Lakdar Femmami pointed out some of the targets of last year's violence, including an historic building that was set on fire. He predicted more unrest to come.

"I'm totally convinced of it for three reasons: It's the end of Ramadan, it's the anniversary of last year's riots and it's school vacation," said Femmami. There are palpable tensions. And there are already signs of unrest. Earlier this week Sevran youngsters clashed with those from a neighboring town.

Located 16 kilometers northeast of central Paris, Sevran possesses all the combustible elements that exploded last year. Roughly a third of its 47,000 residents are immigrants - most first and second generation Arabs and Africans. Unemployment is high, soaring to 35 percent in some places, more than three times the national average. And Sevran has no lack of angry youngsters.

"They're French, but they have one foot in their family's country and one foot in France," said Femmami says. "They're not loved in France and they're envied in their family's country. So they're rejected by both."

After last year's rioting, the French government vowed to address what were considered to be the root causes: Unemployment, discrimination and poverty in these working class, mainly immigrant, neighborhoods.

And during a press conference Thursday, France's conservative prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, announced new programs to give youngsters greater access to higher education.

But critics like sociologist Michel Wieviorka say French politicians have not done enough.

"They don't want to put money in the French suburbs," he said. "They don't want to help all these associations with social workers in the suburb helping people. And on the left, the opposition is also not very strong or interested in dealing with this issue."

Femmami, the Sevran politician agrees. He says the town is still waiting for government reimbursement for the damage caused by last years riots. And, he says, Sevran has yet to receive a promised increase in funding for social programs.

But with presidential elections only six months away, few in the volatile Paris suburbs are expecting bold new programs or reforms any time soon.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs