French youths march over 'grievances'

Young people from the suburbs of Paris hit by riots last year have marched through the French capital to call for more jobs, higher wages and an end to discrimination.

    About 200 people marched through Paris on Wednesday

    Residents of the "banlieues" - high-rise estates outside French cities - have toured the country since the riots last November to interview about 20,000 people and compile a "book of grievances" for the government of Jacques Chirac, the French president.

    The Association for Liberty Equality Fraternity Together United (AC-Le Feu) toured 120 towns collecting grievances and proposals while urging people to vote in legislative and presidential elections next spring.

    The group presented its findings on Wednesday after a series of attacks on police officers in the past few weeks raised the threat of renewed riots on the outskirts of the cities.
       
    AC-Le Feu's proposals include more money to help the unemployed to find work, quotas to force firms to employ more young people, a minimum wage rise and harsher penalties for firms with discriminatory practices.
       
    Concerns

    "Unemployment, housing and discrimination are the main concerns," said Samir Mihi, before handing over the book to parliamentary representatives. "The government should listen to what its citizens have to say."

    French suburbs faced three
    weeks of rioting last November

    Joblessness in the banlieues - where many residents are immigrants and descendants of immigrants from northern and western Africa - is as high as 40 per cent.
       
    That is four times the national average and many people have said that anger about joblessness and poverty was the root cause of last year's riots.
          
    The protesters said the police should be more ethnically diverse to represent French society, and called for officers to work in the areas where they live, saying that would improve communication with residents.
       
    Education

    France should also devote more money to education, create more teaching posts and encourage more children from poorer neighbourhoods to go to elite universities, they said.

    Police said there were only 200 people at the march, but the protesters dismissed the small turnout.

    Abdel Zahiri, who is from a poor neighbourhood outside the southern tourist city of Avignon, said: "The most important thing is the day of the vote. We've worked a year for this.

    "Lots of people don't believe in what we're doing. They don't understand the potential.

    "The risk of violence exists, but hope exists, too."

    AC-Le Feu, whose name is a play on words for "enough fire" was launched in Clichy-Sous-Bois, where two youths were killed in an electric substation as they hid from police on October 27 last year.

    Law and order is a prominent campaign issue for next year's presidential election, with Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative frontrunner, and Segolene Royal, his likely socialist rival, advocating tough policies to prevent crime.

    Bus attacks

    The anniversary of the start of the 2005 riots is on Friday, and police have been girding for new unrest this week. The latest attacks have threatened bus service in several neighborhoods around Paris, as drivers refuse to enter some areas after dark.

    Late on Wednesday, three attackers forced passengers off another bus in Athis-Mons south of Paris and tossed a Molotov cocktail inside, police officials said. The driver managed to put out the fire.

    In yet another attack, between six and 10 youths herded passengers off a bus in the western suburb of Nanterre and set it alight. Regional authorities had expressed surprise at the attack, since the bus line, which passes near Paris' financial district, La Defense, was not considered a high-risk area.

    Early on Thursday, a group of armed attackers stormed a bus outside Paris, forcing the passengers off and setting fire to it.

    It was one of at least three buses targeted in the last 24 hours. No injuries were reported in any of the latest incidents.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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