The French government has sent police reinforcements and a top official to the Dijon region to quell four nights of violence as Chechens from around France and other European countries set out on so-called “revenge raids” in the city.
Cars were torched and rubbish bins set alight late on Monday before several dozen police managed to restore order, authorities said. The local administration said at least 10 people had been injured.
Interior Security Minister Laurent Nunez arrived in Dijon on Tuesday, promising an “extremely strong response” with more than 150 police and para-military gendarmes mobilised to halt any further unrest.
“I want to send a very clear message to the hooligans we have seen brandishing weapons, to the individuals who have come here to commit violence in Dijon,” he said upon leaving police headquarters.
He also said that police would remain at the scene “as long as they need to”.
The unrest began last week after a 16-year-old from France’s Chechen community was attacked by local drug dealers on June 10, according to local broadcaster France Bleu.
Members of the Chechen community called for revenge on social networks, and hundreds gathered in the city on Friday, later directing their activities to Gresilles, a low-income district with a majority North African immigrant population, said local prefect Bernard Schmeltz.
Regional radio news station France Bleu quoted Dijon prosecutor Eric Mathias as saying he had opened an investigation into attempted murder by an organised group and incitement to violence.
Unverified videos circulated at the weekend showing dozens of hooded Chechen men, some wearing balaclavas and brandishing handguns or knives, out in the streets of the Dijon suburb.
Nights of violence
Police said that in one incident about 50 Chechens entered Gresilles overnight on Saturday, and a man who owns a pizzeria was badly wounded by apparent gunfire.
Even more people, about 200, also entered Gresilles late on Sunday with violent intent, according to AFP news agency.
In an interview with local daily Le Bien Public, a man identifying himself as a Chechen said: “There were about a hundred of us from all over France but also from Belgium and Germany. We never intended to ransack the city or take it out on the people.”
“We’re no longer in a (functioning) republic when that is how things play out,” Dijon Mayor Francois Rebsamen told BFM TV, denouncing an initial lack of police resources.
On Tuesday, the leader of the far-right National Rally party, Marine Le Pen, said on Twitter: “Our country is plunging into chaos! What is (Interior Minister) Christophe Castaner doing? Gangs are going around in ethnic warfare with automatic weapons in their hands.”
Chechnya is a Russian republic in the North Caucasus. Two wars in the 1990s triggered a wave of emigration, with many Chechens heading for Western Europe.