French police officers go on trial for youths' death

Two officers appear in court to face charges they failed to prevent electrocution deaths of two teenagers 10 years ago.

    Two police officers have gone on trial over the deaths of two youths that prompted weeks of deadly rioting in France's deprived housing estates nearly a decade ago.

    The two officers, Sebastien Gaillemin and Stephanie Klein, arrived on Monday at the court in Rennes, west of Paris, to face charges they failed to prevent the electrocution deaths of Bouna Traore, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17.

    The teenagers died on October 27, 2005, in a high-voltage electricity sub-station near their Clichy-sous-Bois housing project northeast of Paris, as they hid from police officers milling nearby.

    Their friend, Muhittin Altun, survived with severe burns.

    "This is very important for us. We've been waiting for this moment for 10 years," said Adel Benna, Zyed's brother, as he arrived for the trial. "We're very happy to have this trial."

    The five-day trial will examine whether Gaillemin and Klein knew the youths were in grave danger, but failed to act.

    Almost 10 years on, Manuel Valls, French prime minister, recently said the areas still represent "territorial, social and ethnic apartheid" within society.

    The rioting, arson, and running clashes with security forces that broke out in Clichy quickly spread across hundreds of other communities and lasted for three weeks.

    Critics say the long battle to try Gaillemin, 41 and Klein, 38, is further proof of the discrimination against the blighted "banlieues" [suburbs] and their residents.

    "Three kids were victims, two of them died in atrocious conditions," Jean-Pierre Mignard, a lawyer for the victims' families, said.

    "That could have been avoided, [but] the idea of acting to rescue youths who were from the projects never came to mind."

    Nicolas Leger, the presiding judge, said the court was "well aware of the particular suffering" of the families, but stressed at the outset that it was neither "a trial of the national police" nor a ruling on the "riots that shook
    France".

    Gaillemin and Klein are being tried for "non-assistance to individuals in danger", a charge carrying a maximum prison term of five years and fines of up to $79,000.

    SOURCE: AFP


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