Riots Change Way of Life in Normandy Town

By JOCELYN GECKER
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 9, 2005; 2:07 PM

EVREUX, France -- Three white-haired women stood before the burnt wreckage of their beauty salon, reminiscing about the days when they still felt safe walking the streets of this Normandy town after dark.

"We were happy here," said one of them, an 80-year-old. "Now we're afraid."


Residents look at a shopping center vandalized by arsonists in a housing complex of Evreux, 60 miles west of Paris, in this Nov. 6, 2005 file photo. Unlike many of the nearly 300 French towns hit by violence, Evreux suffered only one night of destruction. But what happened here was so brutal that it was placed on a list Wednesday, Nov 9, 2005 of some 30 cities under a state-of-emergency, clearing the way for nighttime curfews for the coming 12 days. (AP Photo/Francois Mori,file)
Residents look at a shopping center vandalized by arsonists in a housing complex of Evreux, 60 miles west of Paris, in this Nov. 6, 2005 file photo. Unlike many of the nearly 300 French towns hit by violence, Evreux suffered only one night of destruction. But what happened here was so brutal that it was placed on a list Wednesday, Nov 9, 2005 of some 30 cities under a state-of-emergency, clearing the way for nighttime curfews for the coming 12 days. (AP Photo/Francois Mori,file) (Francois Mori - AP)

Another looked at her watch and reported it was almost 4:30 p.m. _ the time that school lets out and when this group of older ladies makes sure they're at home, behind locked doors.

Evreux is like many towns in France, with its prim flower beds, its towering stone cathedral and streets left scarred from a night of fury that has changed the way people live.

Rioters did not descend on the well-preserved historic center of Evreux, about 60 miles west of Paris. They stayed on the other side of town, a long-neglected neighborhood of low-rise, grim concrete housing projects where anger has simmered for years and finally exploded Saturday night.

Unlike many of the hundreds of French cities and towns hit by unrest, Evreux suffered only one night of destruction. But what happened here was so violent that officials felt the need to impose a curfew. Starting Wednesday, no resident were allowed out between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. until Nov. 21 in the neighborhood where violence struck. Violators could face up to two months in jail and a $4,400 fine. Minors face one month in jail.

Local officials were given the power to apply curfews under a state-of-emergency decree approved by France's government on Tuesday, which also covers the French capital, its suburbs and more than 30 other cities or towns. Local officials decide whether they need curfews.

On Saturday night as police patrolled the housing projects on the southern edge of town, hooded youths attacked their car and set it on fire, according to the mayor's office. Two of the officers were female and the gang turned its fury on them, bashing the women with steel bars and beating them so badly they remain in serious condition. Five other police officers were injured.

As more youths joined in, they hurled gasoline bombs at a commercial center, starting blazes that gutted a beauty salon and pharmacy, damaged a dozen other shops and incinerated dozens of cars. They targeted symbols of authority, including a police station and an annex of the mayor's office.

"It's been calm since then, but we know it's not over," said the 80-year-old woman, who gave her name as Annick, saying she was too afraid to give her last name.

Crime, anger and fear have been building in Evreux for years, as the town has changed with the times, officials and residents say. Its low-income housing was built decades ago for French workers from the countryside who came for industrial jobs. The French families gradually left and in the 70s and 80s a new population arrived, mostly immigrants from north and west Africa. Their French-born sons and grandsons have long complained of a lack of jobs and widespread discrimination.

"We're not doing anything to help these people. I'm surprised they didn't riot sooner," said Brigitte Gaspard, a 42-year-old unemployed mother, one of many who feared a nighttime curfew could inflame the situation.

Gaspard waited Tuesday to pick up her daughter from the Victor Hugo elementary school, where several parents said they were trying to shield their children from television images of the burning cars and buildings in their midst.

But, parents and children watched together, in shock, as a black father arrived to pick up his son and faced a humiliating request by school authorities for his identification card. The man lost his temper and his son burst into tears.

"You wonder what drives people to riot?" said Fabrice Allorge, 31, a white man witnessing the scene as he picked his son up from school. "They've never asked me for my identification."

Allorge said he has told his wife and children to stay indoors at night and has placed a list of emergency numbers by the telephone. With a whisper, he noted that he wonders if his neighborhood will be the next to explode.

"I live next to Africans," he said. "You never know what could happen."


© 2005 The Associated Press