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Frustration seethes in French suburbs

Relative calm has returned to France's suburbs Keystone

Swiss journalists "embedded" in a Paris suburb say much anger remains despite the French government's decision to lift the state of emergency on Wednesday.

This content was published on January 4, 2006 - 12:06

They warn that street violence will erupt again unless the authorities act to combat social injustice among the predominantly poor, immigrant population.

Restrictive measures, including curfews, were authorised on November 8 following three weeks of rioting that stretched right across France and saw almost 5,000 people arrested.

In total around 10,000 cars and 200 public buildings were torched during an orgy of violence triggered by the deaths of two youths in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois on October 27.

Journalists from the Swiss current affairs magazine L'Hebdo, who have been based in the neighbouring suburb of Bondy for almost eight weeks, told swissinfo that the situation was calm – and had been for some weeks.

"But the sense of frustration is still here. You have an explosive mix – a lack of work, a concentration of the most fragile members of society. It is very much a ghetto where, in contrast to France's much-vaunted image of integration, the most difficult social problems have been dumped," journalist Alain Rebetez told swissinfo.

"People feel that they have made their point and they are now waiting to see what happens next. If the authorities fail to act then the frustration will spill over again," he warned.

Emergency powers

The government elected to keep the emergency powers in place until after the New Year's festivities, fearing a return of last autumn's violence.

More than 400 cars were set on fire across the country on New Year's Eve – up a third on the previous year – but the authorities believe the situation is now sufficiently under control to dispense with the measures introduced on November 8.

"The situation today is not completely satisfactory, as the events of December 31 show, but all the same it seems to have by and large calmed," said government spokesman Jean-François Cope on Tuesday.

Despite the lifting of emergency powers, L'Hebdo says it intends to stay on for another month documenting the lives of those in Bondy.

The magazine's blog on day-to-day life in the northeastern Paris suburb has received around 45,000 hits since it started in mid-November.

Pepper spray

Speaking from the football clubhouse where L'Hebdo has been based, Rebetez said the Swiss journalists had been generally well received although one of their number was recently attacked with pepper spray during what appeared to be an attempted robbery.

The magazine's presence on the Bondy housing estate has even become a media story in itself, with the French press curious as to what their Swiss colleagues are up to.

"We are living among the people here and that has opened a lot of doors. Most journalists covering the riots tended to turn up during the day and then disappear back to the comfort of their hotels," said Rebetez.

"One French journalist even told me that his colleagues were more afraid of reporting in the suburbs than in Afghanistan or Iraq."

"One shouldn't try to paint a rosy picture of life here – there are serious problems, tension, violence and you have to respect certain codes – but the way these suburbs are portrayed is very much a caricature," he added.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont with agencies

In brief

The French government imposed the rarely used emergency laws on November 8 to quell the unrest that began in late October after two youngsters died while apparently fleeing police officers in a Paris suburb.

In the three weeks of rioting that followed, youths clashed with police in many parts of France. Around 10,000 cars and several schools were set ablaze.

The 1955 law on states of emergency was drawn up to curb unrest in France during Algeria's war of independence.

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