Minister jostled on visit to northern French city of Amiens after riots

Vow to maintain order after buildings torched and police bombarded as tensions boil over in Amiens

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 4:23am


Youths jeered and jostled the French interior minister yesterday in the northern city of Amiens, where he met local officials after overnight riots in which buildings were torched and police were fired at with buckshot and pelted with missiles.

President Francois Hollande said the state would "mobilise all its resources to combat this violence", which has shaken depressed quarters of major French cities at regular intervals in the past decade.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls was met by a crowd of about 100 young men when he arrived in Amiens to discuss two nights of violence sparked by tension over police spot-checks on residents.

"Calm down! Calm down!" Valls yelled as the crowd jostled him while he entered the town hall surrounded by bodyguards. A group of people tried to push through Valls' security detail, booing and cursing him.

One shouted out, "When are you going to speak to us?" before the minister ducked into the building to meet with the mayor, the head of the local prefecture and some residents.

Valls said 17 police were hurt in the rioting, some hit by shotgun pellets, others hit by a hail of missiles thrown by around 100 youths who gathered in the city's northern neighbourhoods.

"Firearms! Can it be considered normal that people turn firearms on police? It's unacceptable ... law and order must be restored," Valls told a news conference, adding that a minority of people were terrorising the local community.

One officer was in a serious condition, the city's Socialist Mayor Gilles Demailly said.

He added: "There have been regular incidents here, but it has been years since we've known a night as violent as this, with so much damage done." The unrest was the first law and order test for Hollande's Socialists following his May election victory over conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, whose tough policies on crime and immigration some critics said fanned urban unrest.

If the rioting in Amiens continues or spreads, it could represent a major challenge to Hollande in a period of record joblessness and flat economic growth.

Rioting in 2005, in the largely immigrant suburbs around Paris, brought about a state of emergency.

It also caused much soul-searching in France about integration, assimilation and the ghetto-like housing projects that ring the city.

The district where clashes erupted, Fasset, is one of 15 special urban zones identified by the Hollande government that are supposed to get more policing next month.

News reports said many residents of the neighbourhood were attending a wake for a local 20-year-old who died last Thursday in a motorbike accident when police arrested a man for dangerous driving.

The arrest was seen as insensitive and prompted minor clashes on Sunday. As the trouble grew, rioters set fire to vehicles, in some cases hauling the drivers out of their cars.

A nursery school was among the buildings gutted in the riot. No-one has been arrested so far.