November 27, 2007 / 5:05 PM / 12 years ago

Life still grim in French suburbs despite pledges

(Adds quote from resident)

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.

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 teenagers in a crash with police in the Villiers-le-Bel suburb of northern Paris led to scenes that revived memories of 2005, when France’s worst urban riots in 40 years erupted.

"Nothing has changed," said Mehdi Bigaderne, a spokesman for ACLEFEU, an association helping youths in Clichy-sous-Bois.

"I don’t think they learnt any lessons from 2005." The violence two years ago began in Clichy-sous-Bois when two teenagers were electrocuted after apparently fleeing police.

The prime minister at the time, Dominique de Villepin, promised to restore millions of euros in funding for community projects in sensitive areas, funds the public accounts body this month said had often failed to reach their destination.

Sarkozy, who as interior minister took a tough line on the 2005 rioters and was blamed for stoking the violence, 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 the U.S. aid granted to rebuild post-war France, to offer 250,000 youngsters in the 750 most deprived areas paid training and work experience.


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

"Ten or 20 years ago, the police would come by and talk to us, now they just want to put the youngsters up against the wall and search them," said Samir Ghrabi who has lived in Villiers-le-Bel since 1973. "We need community police."

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.

A recent law on immigration that introduces language assessments and optional DNA tests to verify family links, has made them feel more marginalised.

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

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

"Promises were made. We see the results today," Francois Hollande, the 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 and Brian Rohan; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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