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Youths, police clash near Paris a 2nd night

Times Staff Writer

Dozens of rock-throwing youths battled police for a second night Monday in a suburb north of Paris, illustrating the hair-trigger tension in France’s poor immigrant neighborhoods.

The violence began Sunday in Villiers-le-Bel after two teenagers on a motorbike died in a collision with a police car.

The local public prosecutor told television reporters that a preliminary investigation showed that the motorcycle had turned into the path of the police vehicle and that the officers had quickly called an ambulance for the 15- and 16-year-old boys.

But rumors spread that the police had acted irresponsibly, leaving the scene of the crime, and by the next morning nine young people were in jail, 40 police officers and one firefighter were injured, several buildings had been burned to the ground and residents were quoted in media reports comparing the situation to the riots of 2005.

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With conflicting reports about the collision, a judge ordered a manslaughter inquiry. A separate internal police inquiry was launched to determine whether the officers had failed to properly help the teenagers and whether charges should be filed, according to an unidentified police official quoted by the Associated Press.

For three weeks in the fall of 2005, young people -- most of them blacks or of Arab origin -- went on nightly rampages in housing projects surrounding most of France’s big cities. Rioters burned cars and clashed with police over what was diagnosed as rage over unemployment, discrimination and a fundamental sense of exclusion from French society.

The earlier riots were also sparked by deaths -- those of two teens accidentally electrocuted while hiding from police.

Monday’s clashes in the suburb began about 7:30 p.m., the same time that smiling Paris officials were illuminating holiday lights on trees lining the Champs-Elysees, 10 miles away.

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About 160 police officers flooded the streets of the suburb, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at bands of youths who burned cars and garbage cans, threw rocks and metal objects and fired pellet guns.

By midnight, the local library was engulfed in flames. A police station and a McDonald’s restaurant also were burned.

Officials from the suburb’s mayor to President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was in China on a state visit, appealed for calm while authorities investigated.

But opponents of the new president were already blaming him and the previous government, in which he was a Cabinet minister, for not having “done anything” since 2005 to ameliorate tensions in the poorest suburbs.

Christophe Soullez, a French criminologist, said it was a bad sign that so many police officers were injured. In an ITV interview, he said, “In 2005, only a few policemen were hurt.”

geraldine.baum@latimes.com

Achrene Sicakyuz of The Times’ Paris Bureau contributed to this report.


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