Riots Escalate In France (HOPE)
VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France: With rocks raining down on them, police lined the streets of this tense suburb Tuesday where angry youths have vowed to seek revenge for the deaths of two teenagers who died in collision with a police car.
Police union officials warned that the violence was escalating into urban guerrilla warfare with shotguns aimed at officers - a rare sight in the last major outbreak of suburban unrest in 2005.
More than 80 officers were injured on Monday night - four of them as a result of gunfire - and the rage was still simmering on Tuesday afternoon. Inside the city hall of Villiers-Le-Bel, a group of visiting mayors appealed for calm while outside police officers dodged rocks.
"We are sitting targets," said Sophie Bar, a local police officer who stood guard outside the city hall. "They were throwing rocks at us and it was impossible to see where they came from. They just came raining over the roof."
The violence was triggered by the death of two teenagers on a motorbike who were killed in a crash with a police car on Sunday night. The scene, with angry youths targeting police mostly with firebombs, rocks and other projectiles, was reminiscent of three weeks of rioting in 2005.
But senior police officials warned that this time the violence was more intense.
"Things have changed since 2005," said Joachim Masanet, secretary general of the UNSA police trade union. "We have crossed a red line. When these kids aim their guns at police officers, they want to kill them. They are no longer afraid to shoot a policeman. We are only on the second day since the accident and already they are shooting guns at the police."
Six of the police officers hurt in Monday's clashes were in serious condition, according to Francis Debuire, a police union official. Four were injured by gunfire, including one who lost an eye and another who suffered a shattered shoulder. Twenty-five officers were injured Sunday night.
The biggest risk, police say, is that the violence will spread to other parts of France. In 2005, unrest cascaded through more than 300 towns, leaving 10,000 cars burned and 4,700 people arrested.
On the A1 highway outside of Paris, bold graffiti letters promised "Revenge for Villiers-le-Bel." Cars were burning in at least four neighboring suburbs, and minor clashes occurred in at least one other town.
As night fell in Villiers-Le-Bel, the anxiety was evident. Strangers warned people to hide their portable telephones because youths were snatching them on the street. People hurried to their homes while some gathered in knots on street corners.
Naim Masoud, 39, a teaching assistant at a local school, walked along a side street behind the police that was burned down by rioters two days ago. In her school, she said, even eight-year-old children talk about racisim and discrimination by police. "It will take a lot more than riot police to cure this neighborhood," she said. "These children feel like foreigners. In their own country they feel abandoned. It is inexcusable what they are doing, but the seeds are deep."
The anger is so strong that some young men stood by the charred timbers of the town's police station, laughing and surveying the damage.
Cem, 18, of Turkish origin, declined to give his name because he feared police reprisals. But he and his friend, Karim, of Algerian descent, said they both participated in rioting over the past two days.
"That's just the beginning. This is a war. There is no mercy," Cem said. "We want two cops dead."
"The police brought this on themselves," Karim chimed in. "They will regret it."
Some of the fiercest clashes on Monday took place beside the local bakery where one of the dead teenagers, 16-year-old Larami, was working as an apprentice.
Habib Friaa, the owner of the bakery, said Larami had started working with him and five other employees in September and was highly regarded. He was stunned, he added, to learn Monday about his death.
"It's quite something to say goodbye to somebody on Saturday and learn two days later that he died. We're like a family here because we're a small business," Friaa said, noting that Larami "was not a delinquent. He was somebody who was learning our profession and he was serious."
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