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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 November 2005, 14:05 GMT
The other side of Aulnay
By Joseph Winter
BBC News website, Aulnay-sous-Bois

After a week of riots during which a Renault showroom was destroyed along with the hundreds of cars inside, the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois has become known around the world as a place of violence and poverty.

And yet just a mile or so from where the menacing, dilapidated tower blocks have seen nightly clashes between angry youths armed with petrol bombs and the police, is the Vieux Pays (Old Country) district of Aulnay which has the feel of picture-postcard France.

People walk down narrow, tree-lined streets, past quaint houses with wooden shutters and window boxes full of carefully-tended flowers to pick up their baguettes from the bakers.

Teacher Elisabeth Jallon told the BBC News website that Aulnay used to be a quiet little country town until it was swallowed up by urban sprawl in the 1960s and the tower blocks were built.

In the town's richer neighbourhoods, some understand the frustration and anger of the rioters but the patience of others ran out long ago.

"It's been a week now, it's too much. They should send in the police or even the army to stamp it right out," said one man.

"It's crazy," said another. "Aulnay used to be a beautiful town and they've wrecked it."

"All this only means our taxes will have to go up to pay for the damage," said an old woman taking her poodle for a walk.

She blamed the parents for the trouble, saying: "Where are they when their 11- and 12-year-olds are out setting cars on fire at night?"

None of them wanted to give their name for fear of reprisals.

'Separate world'

They all vehemently denied there was any racism in Aulnay but walking around the town's richer areas like Vieux Pays and especially Aulnay Sud, divided by the railway lines from the riot-hit areas, it is noticeable that there are far fewer black and Arabic faces.

Paul Coste
There could be war - if they come to burn my car, I'll be waiting with my gun
Paul Coste
This overlap of ethnic, economic and physical divisions only makes it more difficult for the different groups who live in Aulnay to understand each other's problems and work together to solve them.

One woman said that she used to live on the "hot" estates.

"It's a different world over there - completely separate," she said.

While most of the violence - except for the burning of the Renault showroom - has been taking place on the estates, the effects are being felt across the town.

Some are now afraid to go out at night, while one man lost a day's work clearing out his garage so he could park his car there in case the trouble spreads.

The woman walking her poodle said she was worried that the firefighters and ambulance drivers would be too busy having stones thrown at them as they tried to put out the fires to attend to other emergency calls.

"I live opposite the police station and I haven't slept in the past week because of all the sirens," said another woman.

March through the town
Local people have been calling for an end to the riots

Paul Coste, 52, who has lived in Aulnay all his life, had to drive around the town to find a cash machine which was still working after those near his house had been wrecked.

His 84-year-old mother lives on the estates and is too afraid to go out on her own, so he was taking her shopping - once he managed to get hold of some money.

"There could be war," he said. "If they come to burn my car, I'll be waiting with my gun."

One of the solutions he wanted was to tighten immigration control, saying it was a shame that the rioters were born in France "or they could be sent back home, where they wouldn't be allowed to cause trouble like this".

Boost for Sarkozy?

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has outraged many inhabitants of the estates by saying they should be "pressure-cleaned" of all the "rabble" who live there.

But such comments may go down well with a part of the electorate ahead of the 2007 elections which are already dominating French politics.

Mrs Jallon's husband, also a teacher, was not sure of the exact mathematical relationship between the numbers of cars burnt and votes for the right-wing but said the violence would definitely help candidates calling for tougher law-and-order and immigration policies.

Some young rioters in Aulnay said the violence would continue until Mr Sarkozy resigned for his insulting comments and what they see as racist policing.

It could be that on the contrary, they are actually helping his election campaign.

In an opinion poll published on Sunday, 63% of those surveyed said Mr Sarkozy had used "shocking" words but 57% still have a positive view of him.

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