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Attacks on French police rise

Gangs in largely immigrant districts routinely target officers, security forces say.

October 23, 2006|From the Associated Press

EPINAY-SUR-SEINE, FRANCE -- On a routine call, three unwitting police officers fell into a trap. A car darted out to block their path, and dozens of hooded youths surged out of the darkness to attack them with stones, bats and tear gas before fleeing. One officer was hospitalized, and no arrests were made.

The recent ambush was emblematic of what some officers say has become a near-perpetual and increasingly violent conflict between police and gangs in tough, largely immigrant French neighborhoods that were the scene of a three-week paroxysm of rioting last year.

One small police union claims officers are facing a "permanent intifada."

National police reported 2,458 cases of violence against officers in the first six months of the year, on pace to top the 4,246 cases recorded for all of 2005 and the 3,842 in 2004. Firefighters and rescue workers have also been targeted -- and some now receive police escorts in such areas.

On Sunday, a band of about 30 youths, some wearing masks, forced passengers out of a bus in a southern Paris suburb in broad daylight, set the vehicle on fire, then stoned firefighters who came to the rescue, police said. No one was injured. Two people were arrested, one of them a13-year-old, according to LCI television.

Ethnic integration and violence against police are becoming issues in the campaign for the French presidency. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the top contender on the right, said this month that those who did not love France did not have to stay, echoing a longtime slogan of the extreme-right National Front: "France, love it or leave it."

Some police unions have said that some youth gangs no longer seem content to throw stones but appear determined to hurt police officers -- or worse.

There have been at least four gang beatings of police in Parisian suburbs since Sept. 19. Early Friday, a dozen hooded people hurled stones, iron bars and bottles filled with gasoline at two police vehicles in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a flashpoint of last year's riots, said Guillaume Godet, a city hall spokesman. One officer required three stitches to her head.

Minority youths have long complained that police are more heavy-handed in their dealings with them than with nonimmigrant French, demanding papers and frisking them for no apparent reason.

Such perceived ill-treatment fuels feelings of injustice, as do the employment difficulties faced by immigrants.

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