77 police officers hurt in Paris riots

27 11 2007

AP VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France – Rampaging youths rioted overnight in Paris’ suburbs, hurling Molotov cocktails and setting fire to dozens of cars. At least 77 officers were injured and officers were fired at, a senior police union official said Tuesday.The violence was more intense than during three weeks of rioting in 2005, said the official, Patrice Ribeiro. Police were shot at and are facing “genuine urban guerillas with conventional weapons and hunting weapons,” Ribeiro said.

Some officers were hit by shotgun pellets, Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said. She said there were six serious injuries, “people who notably were struck in the face and close to the eyes.”

The riots were triggered by the deaths of two teens killed in a crash with a police patrol car on Sunday in Villiers-le-Bel, a town of public housing blocks home to a mix of Arab, black and white residents in Paris’ northern suburbs.

Residents claimed that officers left the crash scene without helping the teens, whose motorbike collided with the car. Officials cast doubt on the claim, but the internal police oversight agency was investigating.

Youths first rioted Sunday and again overnight Monday to Tuesday, when the violence apparently got worse.

Police barricades were set on fire and youths threw stones and Molotov cocktails at officers, who retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets. In Villiers-le-Bel and surrounding areas, youths set fire to 36 vehicles, the area’s prefecture said.

Youths were seen firing buckshot at police and reporters. A police union official said a round from a hunting rifle pierced the body armor of one officer who suffered a serious shoulder wound.

Among the buildings targeted by the youths was a library, which was set afire.

In Sunday’s violence, eight people were arrested and 20 police officers were injured — including the town’s police chief, who was attacked in the face when he tried to negotiate with the rioters, police said. One firefighter also was injured.

Residents drew parallels to the 2005 riots, which were prompted by the deaths of two teens electrocuted in a power substation while hiding from police in a suburb northeast of Paris.

A recent study by the state auditor’s office indicated that money poured into poor French suburbs in recent decades had done little to solve problems vividly exposed by the 2005 riots, including discrimination, unemployment and alienation from mainstream society.

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