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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 19:59 GMT
Bravado and anger in riot suburb
By David Chazan
BBC News, Paris

Police at site of arson attack
Arson attacks in the Paris region spread across France
The wave of arson attacks against cars and schools in impoverished areas of France has subsided for the most part.

But the anger among young people of ethnic minority backgrounds has not died down.

On a rundown housing estate in Aulnay-sous-Bois, on the outskirts of Paris, six or seven youths hang around the entrance to a towering block of flats, apparently oblivious to the cold.

About 300 metres away is a burned-out garage. A little further is a nursery school building gutted by fire. The youths are suspicious, but they agree to talk to me. I ask them who is behind the arson attacks.

"It's everyone, all of us together," says one youth, who declines to give his name. "We talk, we talk and if we agree, we do what we have to do."

I ask if anyone's organising the violence.

We want to be respected and we want to get out of the estates

"We are," replies 19-year-old Mohamed.

He claims, or boasts, that rioters elsewhere in France were copying them. His friend, Rida, chips in.

"I live in Sevrans, he lives in Aulnay," he explains, gesturing to a third youth. "Others live in Blanc Mesnil, La Courneuve, Clichy. We have a little meeting. We talk about what we have to do. Afterwards we each go our separate ways."

The immediate reason they give for the violence is the tough policing policy of France's Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Many teenagers here have already spent time in jail. They say the police are always harassing them, particularly if they leave their neighbourhood.


They say it has got worse under Mr Sarkozy. His name is scrawled on the walls of the suburbs, with insults and obscenities.

He called youths like these "rabble" and they want him forced from office. But that's not their only demand.

Young man walks past burned out garage
Youngsters from the suburbs see little hope of change
"We want jobs like everyone," says Mohamed. "We want to be respected and we want to get out of the estates."

As he says this, he breaks down in laughter. I ask why.

"Because we know it's not possible," he says.

Some of the youths say they have secondary school qualifications, but say they cannot get jobs because of racism.

"It's because we're Arab or black," says Rida. "Go to a business and try finding a black guy to talk to. There aren't any. They're all white there."

He brings out a tattered photograph. It shows him holding a gun - not a revolver but a 12-bore shotgun.

"We're armed," says Mohamed. "We're well armed and in 2007, if Sarkozy becomes president, we'll have a real war. That's why they didn't want to attack Iraq, because they know if they attack Iraq, there'll be big trouble in France."

Extreme tendencies

There is a lot of teenage bravado in what they are saying and I get the impression that if some of their demands were addressed, tempers would quickly cool.

Nevertheless, their language is becoming more extreme - even if it is all a bit tongue-in-cheek.

"We're going to screw France, and England after that. You know the London attacks? There's one that failed. We're with al-Qaeda, you know," says Mohamed.

That's probably not true. Nevertheless, I get the feeling that some of them could easily be recruited by extremist groups.

"We're only French on paper," says Mohamed. "I was at school with a friend. I passed my exams and he didn't. We both applied for the same job as a salesman, but they took him because he's white."

And these young men are convinced that the only time anyone listens to their grievances is when there are cars burning in the streets.

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