Banlieues burning

Published 8:32 pm Friday, November 18, 2005

By Staff
In France, Arab, Asian and African immigrants are trapped outside the central cities in squalid apartments in the suburbs.
It's these banlieues ringing Paris and other French cities that burned.
It was a red-skied scene reminiscent of the tumultuous spring of 1968 when student riots brought down the government.
Crowds of stone throwers clashed with police night after night.
Figures in the shadows hurled Molotov cocktails at cars and buses.
Rioters were mostly Arab or black, but mostly French, too, since they were born in the desolate neighborhoods they were setting ablaze as their anger arced across northern Paris.
Police and firefighters trying to extinguish the rebellion only succeeded in inflaming it further.
Zero-tolerance crime-fighting Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, in particular, who wants to succeed President Jacques Chirac in 2007, stoked anger with his tough talk that the young rebels were “scum.”
French leaders attempted to find a balance between condemning the violent rage and understanding it, but revealed mostly their powerlessness to impose order on the chaotic spasm.
In an embarrassing admission of its loss of control, the government suspended train service between Paris and Charles de Gaulle Airport.
France's image of itself as a model for tolerant social equality burned along with the vehicles in the tinderbox that is the working-class suburbs of Paris.
The burning banlieues are just far enough removed from the glittering center of the romantic city that few foreigners see the high-rise public housing where unemployment surpasses 40 percent.
France clings to a belief that arriving newcomers are officially French and need no special treatment to guarantee their equality against job and housing discrimination.
Their political leadership consists of one Cabinet minister born in Algeria.
Sparking the rioting were the deaths of two teens who thought they were being chased by police and hid in the relay station of a high-voltage transformer, where they were electrocuted.
An official inquiry determined there had been no pursuit.
But after nine nights of uprising, clashes spread as far south as Marseilles.
Thousands of cars had been torched and buses, schools and government buildings had also been set on fire.
Despair runs deep in a country with 5 million Muslims.
Resentment is likely to continue to smolder until widening disparities between France and its banlieues of marginalized second-class citizens are bridged.