Riots Rage in Paris Suburb After Police Collision

Riots in the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel continue Tuesday, following the death Sunday of two teenagers in a collision with police. Robert Siegel talks with Michael Deibert, Paris correspondent for the Inter Press Service, who says there are reports that the violence now is as bad as the riots of 2005.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

For the third night this week, young men have rioted in the suburbs of Paris. Over the first two nights, some of the rioters fired shotguns at police and rammed burning cars into buildings. More than 80 police officers are said to have been injured. More than 60 cars have been set on fire. The riot started after two teenagers on a moped collided with a police car and died. That was in the town of Villiers-le-Bel.

Michael Deibert is Paris correspondent for the Inter Press Service and he was in Villiers-le-Bel today.

Michael Deibert, a traffic accident - although a fatal one - and all these rioting, something seems to be out of sync. What's the relationship between the two?

Mr. MICHAEL DEIBERT (Paris Correspondent, Inter Press Service): It's interesting, you know, Robert, because generally, people don't just burn down a police station as happened in Villiers-le-Bel with no reason. And so, as you know I'm sure, there was a great disturbance and upheaval here in 2005 after two kids died in another suburb called Clichy-sous-Bois. And this time, in 2005, the kids were respectively descendants of North African and West African immigrants.

And these communities in the suburbs have been quite marginalized in France. I mean, the unemployment there is quite bad. It's about 20 percent, which is twice the national average. And for the 20 to 30-year-olds, it's more than 30 percent. And also, physically, these neighborhoods are quite cut off from, say, the rest of Paris. I mean, you have to take the area, the high-speed train. And then you have to take a very infrequent and very crowded bus to get to a lot of these places. So there really is an actual physical as well as a kind of mental sensation of being cut off and disenfranchised.

SIEGEL: Now, Nicolas Sarkozy cut a very high profile in 2005 in his response as interior minister to the riots. How would you describe the response of the French government now that Nicolas Sarkozy is the president?

Mr. DEIBERT: In September, I actually went to Clichy-sous-Bois where the 2005 disturbance started and the consensus I got from people there was that absolutely nothing had changed, that the community and the police relations were still quite bad, that there wasn't really any kind of employment scheme or kind of integration scheme to address what people in this neighborhood say is the institutional racism in the employment sector and the housing sector and things like that.

SIEGEL: What was Villiers-le-Bel like today when you were there? What did it look like to you?

Mr. DEIBERT: It was extremely tensed. The police commissary - it was completely burned to the ground and gutted, which is not something that you see every day in a major French city. You know, the roof was gone. The towers were spread out all over the courtyard. And there was almost no police presence, which I found quite strange, except outside of the mayor's office, where a couple of mayors from the local municipalities were having a press conference to plead for calm and to ask for the government's help.

SIEGEL: How would you describe the reaction of Parisians to what they're experiencing firsthand or seeing and hearing about in the news?

Mr. DEIBERT: Well, it's been quite an interesting fall thus far. As I'm sure you know, there was a fairly massive transit strike for about a week and a half that really rather crippled transport in the city. And now, along with this, I mean, it's a shame, because it's a feeling of deja vu. I think it's something of a feeling that these problems we had had in 2005 and they weren't addressed. The underlying causes of the problems and the kind of resentment that had built up in the suburbs weren't addressed. So, you know, in some ways, I don't think people can be that surprised that this is happening again.

SIEGEL: Well, Michael Deibert, thank you very much for talking with us about it.

Mr. DEIBERT: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: It's Michael Deibert of the Inter Press Service speaking to us from Paris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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