Sarkozy urges calm after violence in Paris suburb

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PARIS, Nov 26 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for calm today in a Paris suburb where two teenagers died after being involved in a crash with police, sparking a night of violence that revived memories of 2005 riots.

Police launched an investigation into the deaths which will focus on whether the two officers helped the dying youths, amid complaints from locals on the estate that they fled the scene after the incident.

Twenty six police and fire officers were injured, five buildings and 28 cars were torched in six hours of clashes with youths that followed the crash in the Villiers-le-Bel suburb.

Four neighbouring areas were also affected, and nine people were arrested.

''I call on everyone to calm down and let the justice system decide who was responsible,'' Sarkozy told reporters during an official visit to Beijing.

The violence has brought back memories of the 2005 riots in France's poor, often housing ethnically diverse housing estates, when thousands of cars were torched after two teenagers died from electrocution after apparently fleeing police.

Sarkozy was interior minister at the time and took a tough line with the rioters, which critics say helped stoke the violence.

Police sources said the pair who died yesterday, aged 15 and 16 years, were driving without helmets on a stolen motorbike and ignored traffic rules.

''It was not a chase but apparently a traffic accident,'' a police source said.

But local inhabitants of the Villiers-le-Bel estate have contested that version of events.

''They hit them from behind,'' Calbo, a rapper and local resident, told reporters.

''They saw they were in pain, they didn't help. The police tried to drive off by starting their car. They couldn't start their car because it was damaged, so they ran away,'' he added.

The local mayor also appealed for calm.

''I'm appealing to all inhabitants, and notably young people so that we can get back to calm in our town,'' said Villiers-le-Bel mayor Didier Vaillant.

''Since yesterday, we're in mourning. Last night, the town has suffered,'' he told i-Tele television.

REUTERS JT BD2242

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