VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France – Dozens of youths clashed with police yesterday for the second night in a row in a working- and lower-class suburb north of Paris, throwing stones, glass and firebombs against large contingents of heavily armed riot police officers and moving nimbly from target to target on several fronts, torching cars and a garbage truck.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, in China yesterday on an official visit, appealed for calm.
The clashes began when two teenagers traveling on a motorbike died in a collision with a police car on Sunday afternoon in the town of Villiers-le-Bel, about 12 miles north of Paris, in the Val d’Oise department. The two teenagers were identified in French news reports only as 15-year-old Moushin and 16-year-old Larami.
Last night, more than 100 youths had pushed riot police officers into the middle of a four-way intersection, raining projectiles on them from at least two directions. Police officers responded with tear gas and paint guns to mark the attackers for arrest. Broken glass and used tear-gas canisters littered the roads.
At least one police officer was wounded. Within sight of the intersection, a garbage truck was on fire, apparently unattended as youths were lined up behind it.
At least 15 cars were burned yesterday, with the police guarding the local fire department and moving to protect firefighters as they put out fires. At least three buildings received some fire damage, including a library and a post office, a spokesman for the police in Val d’Oise said.
Many of the youths had lined up garbage cans in the middle of the street.
Firecrackers could be heard. When a firebomb hit a garbage can, the youths could be heard cheering. Standing on the sideline of the battles, one youth was holding a poster of one of the two dead youths: “Deceased 25/11/07. Dead for nothing.”
The incidents last night took place not far from where Moushin and Larami died, and they followed other confrontations between youths and the police on Sunday night.
Within an hour of the teenagers’ deaths, bands of youths had begun to throw stones at the police car. Through the evening, they burned down the police station in Villiers-le-Bel, four privately owned buildings, 28 cars and two dozen trash cans, the police said. A police officer suffered a punctured lung. Nine arrests were made, mainly in Villiers-le-Bel.
The violence spread to nearby Sarcelles, and some damage was reported in other towns.
The police expected more unrest last night.
“We’ve talked to our colleagues from the domestic intelligence services, who themselves talked to their contacts, in particular in schools, and what they are hearing are the little brothers saying, ‘My big brother told me to stay home tonight because they are going to destroy everything,”‘ Patrick Trotignon, who is in charge of the Paris area for the Synergie Officiers police union, said Monday in an interview.
The two deaths in Villiers-le-Bel recall the deaths of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traore, teenagers who were electrocuted in a power station in another suburb, Clichy-sous-Bois, in October 2005. Their deaths led to the three-week civil unrest that eventually spread to many urban areas in France. Thousands of cars were burned and dozens of public buildings were set on fire. Sarkozy, who was interior minister at the time, made a name for himself by calling for tough measures against the youths involved.
Early Monday evening, before the violence began in earnest, a group of mothers and girls were gathered at the foot of a building, watching a column of riot police officers nearby.
“They say it’s an accident, but for me it’s not an accident,” said Jennifer Vandelannoitte, 22. “Me, I’m telling you, they’re going to pay. Really, it’s not good.”
The police authority for the Val d’Oise area described the accident Sunday as an ordinary crash at an intersection. “What is almost entirely sure is that it wasn’t a chase with the youths, but that they crashed into each other at the intersection,” said a police spokeswoman for the Val d’Oise region. “There is a theory that the youths ignored the right of way.”
Trotignon of Synergie Officiers said the kind of motorbike that was involved was not approved for road use.