November 27, 2007 / 2:29 PM / 10 years ago

French suburbs still await change after 2005 riots

By Anna Willard

PARIS, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Life has not improved for the inhabitants of France’s poor, ethnically diverse suburbs since the riots of 2005, despite millions of euros in cash pledges and President Nicolas Sarkozy’s election promises, experts say.

High unemployment, underperforming schools, poor relations with the police, inadequate housing and controversial new immigration laws have created a generation of frustrated youths ready to turn to violence at any time.

Locals say it is not surprising that the deaths of two youths in a crash with police in the Villiers-le-Bel suburb of northern Paris led to scenes that have quickly revived the memories of 2005, France’s worst urban riots in 40 years.

"Nothing has changed," said Mehdi Bigaderne, a spokesman for ACLEFEU, an association helping youths in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb where the 2005 violence began when two teenagers were electrocuted after apparently fleeing police.

"I don’t think they learnt any lessons from 2005," he added.

The prime minister of the time, Dominique de Villepin, who is from the same party as Sarkozy, promised the government would restore millions of euros in funding for community projects in sensitive areas. The European Union also offered 50 million euros to help turn around the fortunes of the suburbs.

Sarkozy, who as the interior minister took a tough line on the rioters and was blamed for stoking the violence, also called for affirmative action to help non-whites get fair treatment.

During this year’s presidential election campaign he called for a "Marshall Plan 2", a reference to massive U.S. aid granted to rebuild post-war France, to offer 250,000 youngsters in 750 most deprived areas paid training and work experience.


But despite the long list of promises, nothing has changed.

"The inhabitants highlighted four problems: the police, education, unemployment and the status of immigrants," said sociologist Laurent Mucchielli.

"On schools, that has not moved forward one iota, you only have to look at the results. The fall in unemployment doesn’t seem to have reached these neighbourhoods. As for the police, it’s even worse than before," he told the Le Parisien daily.

Local officials have repeatedly called for a return to community policing, which was scrapped by Sarkozy during his stints at the interior ministry.

The 2005 riots also provoked a wider debate about better integration of second-generation immigrants who feel alienated by mainstream society, despite being born in France.

But a recent law on immigration that introduces language assessments and optional DNA tests to verify family links, has only made them feel more excluded.

Sarkozy has sought to offer non-whites role models in his government, naming Rachida Dati as justice minister and Fadela Amara as junior towns minister -- both of North African origin.

Amara will present a plan for the suburbs in January but for may observers, it is likely to be too little, too late.

"Promises were made. We see the results today," Francois Hollande, Socialist leader said. "There’s talk of a plan for the suburbs. How long have we been talking about a ‘plan for the suburbs’?" (Reporting by Anna Willard; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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