French government talks tough on anti-police violence after protests

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government said on Wednesday it would come down hard on anti-police violence after officers staged a second night of protests over recent attacks on police and what they see as insufficient resources.

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Unions say a surge in criminal gang activity and militant attacks has put extra strains on police.

Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed to guard airports, train stations and other sites in response to Islamist attacks that have killed more than 230 people in France in the past two years.

On Tuesday night, dozens of police cars, roof lights flashing, drove in convoy down Paris’s Champs Elysees to vent their fear over their own safety.

“The government is totally determined that justice is done each time that a police officer is attacked,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters after meeting with police unions.

Right-wing politicians have seized on the show of discontent to attack President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government six months from an election. Hollande’s opponents say the number of lawless no-go zones in France have proliferated during his mandate.

Hundreds of officers jeered and hurled insults at national police chief Jean-Marc Falcone on Tuesday when he arrived for talks on security in Evry, a town near where a gang petrol-bombed four police officers in a patrol car on Oct. 8.

The car was stationed at a crossroads notorious for smash-and-grab robberies on motorists. Police say the gang tried to prevent the officers getting out of the burning vehicle. Two of the four were seriously hurt and one suffered life-threatening burns.

Falcone, who ordered an inquiry on Tuesday into what he called unacceptable behavior by police officers, urged calm.

“I understand their exasperation, anguish and fear,” he told RTL radio.

Conservative politicians including former head of state Nicolas Sarkozy, who is seeking a return to the Elysee palace, have criticized Hollande’s security record after a spate of militant attacks this summer.

Cazeneuve said Hollande had created 6,300 new police jobs and 2,700 more officers would be recruited by next year to replace the thousands axed during Sarkozy’s 2007-2012 presidency.

Reporting by Brian Love, Leigh Thomas and Marine Pennetier in Paris and Jean-Francois Rosnoblet in Marseille; Editing by Angus MacSwan