Sarkozy Says Riots Were 'Thugocracy,' Not a Social Crisis

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 30, 2007

PARIS, Nov. 29 -- President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday blamed this week's rioting in the Paris suburbs on "thugocracy" and said the violence would not be rewarded by dumping taxpayers' money into the troubled neighborhoods.

"I reject the kind of naive, wishful thinking that makes every delinquent a victim of society and every riot a social problem," Sarkozy said. "What happened in Villiers-le-Bel has nothing to do with a social crisis and everything to do with thugocracy.

"The correct answer to riots is not more taxpayers' money," he said in a speech to hundreds of police officers at a conference. "The correct response is to arrest the rioters."

Police unions and members of Sarkozy's ruling Union for a Popular Movement party praised his tough words about youths and young men in immigrant-heavy suburban neighborhoods who torched automobiles and several public buildings in response to the deaths Sunday night of two teenagers whose motorcycle collided with a police cruiser in the northern suburb of Villiers-le-Bel.

But suburban residents, opposition party officials and social activists accused the president of inflaming an already volatile situation and ignoring the plight of millions of immigrants and their families who confront discrimination, poor housing and education, and high unemployment.

"He's right when he says we should condemn all forms of violence," said Ahmed el-Keiy, news director of FM radio station BEUR, which aims music and talk shows at North African youths in the Paris suburbs. "The fact that he seemed not to consider the fact that there's a crisis in the suburbs was quite astonishing."

The division in opinions about one of the most significant speeches Sarkozy has delivered in his six months as president reflected the public's response to the wave of violence that engulfed France's ethnically mixed suburbs two years ago: The suburban communities accused him then of fueling the violence with his harsh language, yet he was elected president by a large bloc of voters who agreed with his tough law-and-order positions.

"The population as a whole expected these kinds of words from the president today, because everyone was afraid that the riots would spread the way they did in 2005," said Eric Raoult, mayor of the suburban town of Le Raincy and a member of Sarkozy's party in the National Assembly. "He managed to put out the fires in a few days."

But overall, public confidence in Sarkozy's ability to solve France's problems is declining, opinion polls show.

The government dispatched 1,000 police officers to the streets of the most troubled suburban towns this week, effectively curbing most of the arson but doing little to reduce tensions in the communities.

"The situation has been calm since Tuesday," Interior Minister Mich¿le Alliot-Marie said Thursday. "However, we must remain extremely vigilant."

In the northern suburb of Villiers-le-Bel, several hundred people joined a silent march honoring the two teenagers whose deaths set off three nights of violence.

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