Sunday, February 10, 2008

French Youths Rampage On Reunion Island

Last week the French departement of the sleepy Island of La Reunion, tucked away in the South-West corner of the Indian Ocean, was again transformed into a veritable war zone, as a frightfully large army of youths, in a game of oneupmanship with their confreres back in the Parisian suburbs, went on a fiery rampage, possibly to protest an arrest made earlier the same day.

Last December the Island's rioting teenagers made the headlines when they specifically targeted one of the island's few police stations, attempting to set it on fire. Outnumbered police were at pains to contain the marauders.

This time, the police had to call in reinforcements from neighboring cities, in order to prevail... or so it sounds, from this [translated] account out of a local paper:
Around 8:00 pm, about fifty young men gathered at the Titan traffic circle, most of them masked by scarves. Many garbage cans were set on fire and placed in the middle of the causeway, on both sides of the street.
When fire-fighters from [the city of] Le Port arrived on the scene, the tension was palpable. Police were called to escort the firemen. Rioters and law officers watched them. Then a rain of stones poured down on the police. The warning is given. A rumor spreads. The arrest of a young thug earlier in the afternoon might have been the action's point of point of departure.
Reinforcements arrived from Saint-Denis. The police charged, the youths fell back to the buildings, fleeing on scooter. Tear gas grenades dispersed the youths. But the action kept getting bigger. Burning bottles started flying, molotov cocktails. A first car is set afire, then a second. Stones were thrown from windows. Soon, the ground is littered with dozens of projectiles and the remains of garbage cans, and various garbage still aflame.

Authorities took stock of the situation and the senior officers headed to the scene to be at the side of their troops. Nathalie Authebon, police commissioner of [the city of] Port is aboard a 4x4 with one of her teams. The departmental director of public security, Michel Clément, is also on scene. Soon, the sub-prefect of Saint-Pierre also heads to the area to oversee this exceptional situation. In the crush, the police manage to make arrests, immediately transporting the arrested to the Port precinct. The media is also targeted, a cameraman had his car stolen, which then ended up ablaze in the middle of the street. Between the youths and the police, a crowd of bystanders stood still at the base of the apartment buildings in order to watch the "show".

Over the radio airwaves, terrorized residents related what they were living through: "Impossible to go outside, I've barricaded myself in my own home, there are youths everywhere that are throwing stones and molotov cocktails. It doesn't stop. I won't be able to sleep the whole night", says one terrified female caller.

Around 10:00 pm, the situation seemed to calm down. Michel Clément makes a point on the situation: "Somewhere around 8:00 pm, there was a redeployment of about fifty youths at the Titan traffic circle setting fire to several garbage cans and when the police arrived, they became the target for showers of stones by these individuals. Therefore reinforcements were called in, coming from [the city of] Saint-Denis, they are now in action for making arrests and dispersing these individuals. The situation is almost under control at this time. Actually, there are about fifty police officers on the scene." ...
Here and there, police and youths continue to clash. But the majority of the bands are dispersed. And it comes down to face-to-face intimidation. Insults are hurled. Then a youth advances while rolling his shoulders. The police go forward, helmeted. When they find themselves close enough to the boy, they catch him and handcuff him before putting him in the van.
Hard to sum up last night's damages, the youths seemed ready to fight for a good part of the evening. Today, those arrested will have to explain themselves to the court. But most of them are minors. No doubt a strategy on the part of the elders, to send the youngest into the nets of law enforcement, all the better for [the older kids] to get away in the diversion. Also, it's difficult to establish precise responsibilities in these types of events, which are, on top of things, at night.
"For now, we have no exact explanation for these incidents. But we're going to figure out what happened", explained Michel Clément last night.
Here's a French language account from the island's television news program. It's pretty much the same information as in the written account, so I won't translate it...:

If this story hadn't been picked up by French blogs, such as the vigilant Francois deSouche, where I found it, would anyone within continental Europe have heard about it otherwise? It doesn't seem to have been mentioned in any of the major French papers that I follow, a complaint echoed in FDS' comments section at his blog.
The island's press gave it lots of coverage, but elsewhere, I suppose, it's just not news anymore that a substantial number of teenagers living in French suburbs seem to be growing up as barbarians.

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