But despite the cultural renaissance — not to mention Marseille’s famed fish soup — all people here are talking about is murder and drug trafficking. In the past two weeks, five killings have been recorded that police say are linked to gang wars for control of hashish sales in the city’s infamous high-rise slums.
The eruption has refocused attention on Marseille’s long-standing reputation as a European drug-smuggling hub, a place where entire neighborhoods have slipped away from police control and fallen under the command of gangsters who earn millions importing and selling North African hashish and settle turf disputes with AK-47 assault rifles.
“Marseille is sick with its violence,” Interior Minister Manuel Valls said.
Vowing to squash the drug trade and end the violence, Valls last week dispatched 250 paramilitary and other national police officers to reinforce the usual deployment of around 3,000. The night after they were deployed, with television cameras in tow, another body was found, burned to a crisp with a bullet in its charred skull, the execution method local traffickers call the “barbecue.” The next day, two Turkish immigrants were shot and wounded, and a pair of youths driving by on a motor scooter opened fire with a pistol on a third man, wounding him in the legs.
Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, from the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), said the city is doing its best to improve the poor suburbs, inhabited mainly by North African immigrants, where youth unemployment is double the national average of 10 percent. But he said ending drug violence in Marseille is mainly up to the Socialist-run government in Paris headed by President Francois Hollande.
“We are making great efforts, but the safety of people and property depends essentially on the government,” Gaudin said in a Q&A with the newspaper Le Figaro. “I would like the government to fully realize that Marseille needs to be helped.”
Gaudin’s statement underlined the political quotient in Marseille’s violence. The city, along with others across France, has scheduled municipal elections next year. A particularly important prize with 850,000 residents, Marseille has become the target of several potential Socialist and UMP candidates.
Moreover, security was a major focus of the conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollande is eager to show he, too, can be tough on crime. Valls, his interior minister, has made a reputation as anything but a squishy liberal in the 10 months since Hollande took office.