What Will Rise from the Ashes?: More than two weeks of rioting have exposed the failures of France's republican ideals. Now, the country must restore order and bring hope to the banlieues
It Can't Happen Here: Discrimination and deprivation aren't just France's problems. A look at how cities in Germany, the Netherlands and Britain are integrating their minorities
Flash Point
Night after night fiery riots have lit up the gulf between the government and France's forgotten youth
French rapper Medine speaks out for second-class citizens
ARCHIVE Inside the Banlieues
The poor are always with us, we just forget they are there

Identity Crisis
Why France is Different
Reality Check
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paris burning Firefighters fought to douse blazing buildings, like this warehouse in Aubervilliers

Streets Of Fire

Nights of mayhem scorch France's troubled banlieues and blacken the country's image of itself
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Posted Sunday, November 6, 2005; 9.34GMT
The young men in their hooded sweatshirts go by rapper tags — Spion, El Pach, Benou and K-Soc — and like thousands of others, they were out cruising the mean streets of Paris' banlieues, the grimy, soulless suburban apartment blocks that ring France's big cities. Behind them, near the city hall of Bobigny, a rough town on the northeastern outskirts of the capital, a circle of fire marked where a trash container had been set alight to provoke a police patrol. Earlier in the evening, some 40 hooded youths rampaged through a local shopping center, breaking windows and harassing employees. "People mix it up with the police every day around here," says Spion, a 19-year-old of Moroccan origin. "Usually it's the police who start it," adds his friend, Peter, whose parents are Haitians. "Yeah, but this is different," says Benou, whose parents came from Algeria. "This is May 1968 — but in the banlieues."

Not exactly. Back then, bourgeois students fired up by existential philosophy took to the streets demanding reform of the university system and an end to what they called the "police state." But last week, France was in the throes of full-scale race riots. Night after night, thousands of frustrated, angry young men turned out to torch almost anything in sight, fed up with the discrimination, joblessness and poverty blighting their lives. Their rage spread like wildfire in an arc across the suburbs of Paris, just kilometers from the city's glittering heart. In Trappes, vandals burned 27 public buses; in Sevran, rioters ambushed a bus, sprinkled gasoline on the passengers, then set it alight, severely burning a disabled woman. Roving gangs targeted schools, shopping centers and businesses as one desolate neighborhood after another joined the mayhem. Thousands of police and firemen struggled to extinguish the rebellion but found themselves inflaming it. More than 480 arrests were made. In one suburb, shots were even fired at the cops. And on Saturday night, a symbolic border was breached when a Molotov cocktail damaged three cars near Place de la République in Paris itself.

The rioters were mostly Arab or black, but they were also mostly French, born and bred in the neighborhoods they were setting ablaze. French leaders tried to strike a balance between condemning the violence and seeking to understand it, but they were powerless to impose order on the streets. For decades, France had preferred to turn away from the deprivation and despair of the banlieues. But last week, they couldn't help but look. Each new outbreak of violence seared the government and left the country's model of social equality blackened. "It's like a forest that's dried out," says Malek Boutih, the Socialist Party National Secretary on Social Issues and former president of sos Racisme. "Things heat up, a wind starts blowing, and all it takes is a spark for the whole thing to go up." With riots flaring in cities such as Dijon, Marseilles and Rouen, all of France could still get burned.

Continued ...

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