French interior minister Manuel Valls has been booed in the northern city of Amiens, hours after riots which left more than a dozen people injured.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the unrest that erupted in the area late on Monday; a primary school was severely damaged by fire, and a sports centre was destroyed. At least 16 officers were wounded by buckshot, fireworks and other projectiles thrown by rioters.
Valls told the community that nothing could excuse the attacks on the police or the destruction of public amenities.
“I have not come here to challenge a community, young people in general. I have come to say that here… law and justice must prevail,” he said on Tuesday. “Nothing, bar nothing, can excuse shooting at the police and law enforcement officials.”
‘Scene of desolation’
The clashes, which involved around 100 local youths, were triggered by the arrest of a man for dangerous driving. The arrest was seen as insensitive, as it came as many residents of the neighbourhood were attending a wake for a local 20-year-old who had died in a motorbike accident.
Police in Amiens said the riot began around 9pm local time on Monday, ending around 4am local time after federal reinforcements arrived. It followed lower-scale clashes 24 hours earlier, which were triggered by the arrest of a man for dangerous driving.
“The state will mobilise all its means to combat these violent acts“
– Francois Hollande, French president
The Socialist mayor of Amiens said he had encountered a “scene of desolation” in the northern quarter of a city that is well known for its university and its 13th century Gothic cathedral.
“There have been regular incidents here but it has been years since we’ve known a night as violent as this, with so much damage done,” Gilles Demailly told the AFP news agency.
Earlier this month, the district in Amiens was identified as among 15 “priority security zones” across the country. Those areas will see an emphasis on tougher policing.
Unemployment in Amiens stands at around 45 per cent. Trade unions battling job cuts across French industry have warned of a “hot autumn” of protest unless the government eases up on its austerity measures.
But French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday made it clear he regarded the unrest in Amiens as primarily a problem of criminality, and promised a tough response.
“The state will mobilise all its means to combat these violent acts,” he said. “Security is not only a priority for us, it is an obligation.”