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Sombre France marks riots anniversary

Written by: Staff

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France, Oct 27 (Reuters) Hundreds of people marched in silence through a rundown Paris suburb today to mark the anniversary of two deaths which triggered the worst riots to hit the French capital in nearly 40 years.

''You can really feel the anger and the suffering of the people who live in Clichy-sous-Bois,'' said Soumeya Ata, who travelled to the suburb north of the capital from the southwestern town of Pau to attend the commemoration.

Around 1,000 mainly young people from immigrant families marched through the high-rise suburb, where the riots erupted after the electrocution deaths of Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna.

Witnesses said the teenagers died while fleeing police.

Marchers, many sporting T-shirts with the slogan ''Dead for Nothing'', passed the electrical substation where the two died and their families wept as they laid flowers at its gate.

Organisers called for quiet reflection to mark the tragedy, although some television crews pulled out after they were threatened by local youths.

Tensions remain high in France's rundown suburbs, where poor job prospects, racial discrimination, a widespread sense of alienation from mainstream society and perceived hostile policing touched off an orgy of violence 12 months ago.

''Nothing has changed,'' marcher Rafika Benguedda, a 21-year-old student, said despondently.

An upsurge in attacks on buses ahead of the anniversary prompted Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to draft in extra police late yesterday after transport chiefs warned they could pull services if the arson continued.

Sarkozy is moving to toughen sentences for attacks on police and law and order could again play strongly in 2007 presidential elections in which the interior minister, the conservative frontrunner, is expected to run.

NO CHANGE Sarkozy has downplayed the anniversary of the 2005 riots -- the worst since student riots in 1968. ''I also have to look after the people who aren't burning things, who aren't smashing up things,'' he said after visiting farmers out of Paris.

The government has sought to play down anniversary talk and highlighted the 420 million euro (1.6 million) it has earmarked since the riots to improve life in the suburbs.

''Things are better, less bad,'' government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope told France Inter radio.

However, while national unemployment has fallen steadily since last year, local officials saw little progress.

''What is being done in order to ensure Clichy does not have three times as many unemployed as the rest of France?'' asked Olivier Klein, the Socialist deputy mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois.

Police unions too are ringing alarm bells. They say 14 officers a day are hurt and that police face an urban guerrilla war in the tinderbox suburbs that ring most major French cities.

Several officers have been hospitalised with injuries from beatings after being apparently lured into traps by gangs of youths in recent weeks.

In the first six months of 2006, some 21,000 cars were burnt and 2,882 attacks recorded against the police, fire and ambulance services.


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