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by Euro Reporter
2012-08-16 11:05:06
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Riots add to economic woes facing France's Hollande

A massive police presence restored calm overnight on Wednesday to the French city of Amiens, where arson and gun attacks on police have added law and order to the deep economic problems President Francois Hollande must confront. The Socialist leader pledged to do all in his power to stamp out unrest two straight days of disturbances in which after 17 police were injured, some by shotgun pellets. An extra 100 officers were sent to the Fafet district in northern Amiens late on Tuesday, bringing to 250 the number of police patrolling there versus the usual 30, officials said. "The night in the northern district of Amiens was very, very calm. There were incidents in other parts of Amiens and seven cars were burned but this is sadly something that is a regular occurrence in the city," a police spokesman said.

Residents have split over the violence, some blaming heavy-handed policing for rioting in which a brand new gym and a nursery school were torched, and drivers were dragged from their cars before the vehicles were set alight. Others said jobless delinquents were responsible for the destruction - the Socialists had already designated Fafet as a priority zone for more police due to rising crime. Their demands for better protection from the authorities echoed criticism from the right that Hollande's ruling Socialists was soft on law and order, something that would only encourage criminality. "It's a small number of youths who roam around all day in scooters doing nothing, but causing trouble for which the local community pays the price," said Amiens resident Mohamed, 70. "People live in fear," he added.

Although France saw no copycat unrest in its major cities overnight, the Amiens disturbances underscored the challenges facing the left, whose sharp attacks on the domestic security policies of Hollande's conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, helped them win May and June national elections. Rundown neighbourhoods ring many French cities, often populated by poor whites, blacks and people of North African descent who feel marginalized from mainstream society. Unemployment in Amiens was 17 percent in 2009, the last year for which official figures are available, 7 points above the national average. The Socialist mayor Gilles Demailly said joblessness in Fafet was as high as 45 percent.

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Thousands of Roma face unforgiving future as France launches new campaign to dismantle camps

The camps weren’t much to begin with: They had no electricity or running water. Grocery carts served as makeshift grills. Rats ran rampant and fleas gnawed on young and old alike. But they were home — and they were better than the new reality for thousands of Gypsies who have been forced into hiding after France launched its latest campaign this month to drive them from their camps. The last big sweep came in 2010, when France expelled Gypsies to Romania and Bulgaria. Then the European Commission imposed sanctions and thousands of French came out to protest in sympathy for the Gypsies, also known as the Roma. This time, the Gypsies left quietly, gathering their belongings and heading into the woods with plans to re-emerge when the coast is clear.

“Why did God even create us, if Gypsies are to live like this?” cried 35-year-old Babica, as bulldozers moved in to tear down the camp in Gennevilliers, on the outskirts of Paris. Like other Roma quoted in this story, he did not give his last name out of fear of arrest or deportation. Most of the Gypsies have no plans to return to Romania, where their citizenship would at least allow them to educate their children and treat their illnesses. Amid a dismal economic environment across Europe, they say, begging in France is still more lucrative than trying to find work where there is none. France has cast the most recent demolitions as necessary for public health and safety. It’s hard to pinpoint how many camps were taken down. At least five around Paris were demolished and several hundred of their residents were ordered out; others came down in Lille and Lyon.

This time, France’s Interior Ministry says, the camps were demolished in accordance with legal guidelines agreed upon with the European Union. “Respect for human dignity is a constant imperative of all public action, but the difficulties and local health risks posed by the unsanitary camps needed to be addressed,” the Interior Ministry said. In no case, the government said, “Did the removals take the form of collective expulsion, which is forbidden by law.” Mina Andreeva, spokeswoman for the European Commission, said the executive body is studying the situation. The Roma Forum, which has ties to the 47-member Council of Europe, condemned the evictions, saying they contradict “President (Francois) Hollande’s commitment from his election campaign to not expel Roma families without proposing alternative accommodation.” It’s not clear whether France consulted any Roma before moving in on the camps.

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Church counts on prayer in France gay marriage debate

French Catholics marked the Assumption holiday on Wednesday with prayers focused on the family and children that were designed to underline the Church's opposition to gay marriage. A prayer read out in churches across France expressed the wish that children "cease to be the objects of the desires and conflicts of adults in order to fully benefit from the love of a father and mother".

The text was produced by the Bishops of France, who are leading opposition to President Francois Hollande's commitment to allow homosexual couples to marry and adopt children. Michael Bouvar, one of the leaders of gay rights group SOS Homophobie, attacked the church's move. "The message sent out by the church is a mask for discrimination and homophobia," he told AFPTV. The prayer was read first at midnight mass at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, attended by nearly 5,000 worshippers ahead of the traditional candle-lit Assumption procession on the Seine river.

It was also read out to some 20,000 pilgrims at Lourdes in south-western France and to thousands of motorcyclists gathered at Porcaro, a tiny village in Britanny where a statue of the Madonna was crowned on the authority of Pope Benedict XVI. Porcaro, where the local priest, Jean-Francois Audrain, rides a 1000cc Kawasaki, has become a place of pilgrimage for motorcyclists from all over France. Raymond Centene, the Bishop of Vannes, said the church would never accept same-sex weddings. "Marriage is above all an institution," he said. "One does not get married because one is in love, above all we get married in the desire to continue life and to create a family."



        
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