On this day October 27, 2005

Riots begin in Paris after the deaths of two Muslim teenagers, involving mainly the burning of cars and public buildings at night starting on 27 October 2005 in Clichy-sous-Bois. Events spread to poor housing projects (the cités HLM) in various parts of France.

A state of emergency was declared on 8 November 2005. It was extended for three months on 16 November by the Parliament. The biggest riots since the May 1968 unrest were triggered by the accidental death of two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, in Clichy-sous-Bois, a working-class commune in the eastern suburbs of Paris, who were allegedly chased by the police. They tried to hide from the police in a power substation where they were electrocuted.

Initially confined to the Paris area, the unrest subsequently spread to other areas of the Île-de-France région, and spread through the outskirts of France’s urban areas, also affecting some rural areas. After 3 November it spread to other cities in France, affecting all 15 of the large aires urbaines in the country. Thousands of vehicles were burned, and at least one person was killed by the rioters. Close to 2900 rioters were arrested.

On 8 November, President Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency effective at midnight. Despite the new regulations, riots continued, though on a reduced scale, the following two nights, and again worsened the third night. On 9 November and the morning of 10 November a school was burned in Belfort, and there was violence in Toulouse, Lille, Strasbourg, Marseille, and Lyon.

Nicolas Sarkozy, interior minister of the time, declared a “zero tolerance” policy towards urban violence after the fourth night of riots and announced that 17 companies of riot police (C.R.S.) and seven mobile police squadrons (escadrons de gendarmerie mobile) would be stationed in contentious Paris neighborhoods.

The families of the two youths killed, after refusing to meet with Sarkozy, met with Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. Azouz Begag, delegate minister for the promotion of equal opportunity, criticized Sarkozy for the latter’s use of “imprecise, warlike semantics”, while Marie-George Buffet, secretary of the French Communist Party, criticized an “unacceptable strategy of tension” and the not less inexcusable definition of French youth as “scum” (racaille, a term with implicit racial and ethnic resonances) by the Interior Minister, Sarkozy; she also called for the creation of a Parliamentary commission to investigate the circumstances of the death of the two young people which ignited the riots.

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