Source AP ©

Youth vandalizes stores, sets cars to fire and clashes with police in Paris

Twenty-one police officers were injured in clashes with youth who a police station, set fire to cars and vandalized stores and a McDonald's restaurant in a rundown Paris suburb.

The violence Sunday night, prompted when two teens were killed in a motorbike crash with a police patrol car, was a reminder that the tensions which drove nationwide riots in 2005 in predominantly immigrant housing projects remain unresolved.

Questions swirled Monday around the circumstances of the crash in Villiers-le-Bel, a town of public housing blocks home to a mix of Arab, black and white residents just a few kilometers north of the French capital.

Tension was palpable as sanitation workers swept glass from broken windows and other debris off the streets of Villiers-le-Bel, and many predicted more violence after nightfall.

Eight people were arrested and 21 police officers were injured - including the town's police chief, beaten in the face after he tried to negotiate with the rioters, a police official said.

Residents drew parallels with the 2005 riots, which were prompted by the deaths of two teens electrocuted in a power substation while hiding from police in a suburb northeast of Paris.

The backlash then against police spread across the nation and raged for three weeks, as youths - many of them black or of Arab origin - torched cars and clashed with police in an explosion of anger over discrimination, unemployment and alienation from mainstream French society.

Those riots called the government's attention to problems that had been festering for decades. Yet a recent study by the state auditor's office indicated that the money spent in recent decades has done little to solve those problems.

The mayor of Villiers-le-Bel called for calm Monday, though police officers appeared to be bracing for more possible violence after nightfall.

The mayor demanded an "impartial investigation" as quickly as possible.

"I ask for a stop to this violence, I ask all residents and especially the youth not to succumb to anger," he said on RTL radio.

Sunday's nights clashes came hours after a motorcycle crashed into a patrol car in the nearby town of Villiers-le-Bel. The driver and passenger, aged 15 and 16, were both killed in the accident.

Rumors had circulated that officers in the patrol car were responsible for the crash. Police officials said the motorbike ignored traffic rules and ran into the police vehicle, and that the bike was unregistered and neither teen was wearing a helmet.

Residents said the police fled the scene after the accident and that the stricken teens lay for an hour before emergency services arrived.

In ensuing clashes, witnesses said, police fired rubber pellets at the youths. Later, shots were fired against the officers in the police station, and reinforcements were called in.

Little more than the building's shell remained, after youths lobbed Molotov cocktails at the police station. Few shops in town were spared in the violence, which left a McDonald's restaurant burned among others. About 15 cars were torched, and several fires were set in garbage cans.

The head of the opposition Socialist Party, Francois Hollande, called the violence the result of "a social and political crisis" and lamented the "climate of suspicion, of hate, that can exist in many neighborhoods."

"Promises were made. We want to see the results," Hollande said on France-Inter radio of government promises to address suburban tensions. "How long have we been talking about a 'plan for the suburbs?"'

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