Armed French police sent into Dijon to quell ethnic gang violence

PARIS (Reuters) - Armed police were sent into a suburb of Dijon in eastern France to restore order after score-settling between rival gangs resulted in a fourth night of street violence.

Trouble erupted on Friday when some 100 Chechen youths from across France descended on the Dijon suburb of Gresilles to avenge an attack on a Chechen teenager earlier in the week, police officials said.

Gresilles is a low-income neighbourhood with a heavy North African immigrant population. A Dijon police source described the ethnic Chechens as heavily armed and said they had told local law enforcement they had come “to clean things up”.

Deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez travelled to Dijon and said the violence must end. He denied police had been slow to intervene, praised their courage, and said reinforcements would remain in the city as long as needed.

Regional radio station France Bleu quoted Dijon prosecutor Eric Mathias as saying he had opened an investigation into attempted murder by an organised group and incitement to violence.

Mathias said Chechens had allegedly used social media to issue a France-wide call for retaliation against the Maghreb community in Gresilles.

Videos, whose provenance Reuters could not immediately authenticate, circulated at the weekend showing dozens of hooded Chechen men, some wearing balaclavas and brandishing handguns or knives, out in the streets of the Dijon suburb.

“We’re no longer in a (functioning) Republic when that is how things play out,” Dijon mayor Francois Rebsamen told BFM TV, denouncing a lack of police resources in provincial cities.

Stephan Ragonneau, regional secretary of the national Alliance Police union, told Reuters the Chechens were “very mobile, very organised, armed (and) hooded”.

“It would have been dangerous to intervene (earlier),” Ragonneau said. “If it had kicked off, there would have been shooting everywhere. There would certainly have been injuries, deaths.”

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Caroline Pailliez and Richard Lough; Editing by Himani Sarkar, John Stonestreet and Giles Elgood