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Cablegate: The Fuse and the Powder Keg: France One Year After

DE RUEHFR #7084/01 3001541
R 271541Z OCT 06





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 2005 PARIS 7835

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: One year after violent unrest lit up
France's underclass suburbs for three weeks, the country's
poor suburban neighborhoods remain troubled. Religious
identity in these largely Muslim areas was not a significant
causal factor then, nor has it become one now. Instead,
failures in education, housing and jobs -- and widespread
discrimination in all three -- are seen as the critical
underlying factors. A year after these events, France is
assessing the state of its immigrant underclass, and the
government's efforts to promote integration and enhance
security over the past year. The picture is decidedly mixed.
Violent restiveness among young men persists despite
highly-touted government policies designed to better their
situation. The government claims it has in place both
long-term and short-term policies that are improving the
situation, but an unfortunate incident could again spark a
resurgence of violent unrest among underclass youths. END

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One Year Ago
2. (SBU) On October 27, 2005, the accidental deaths by
electrocution of two youths hiding from police in a power
transformer installation sparked widespread urban unrest
across France that lasted weeks. Last year's unrest (reftel)
caused considerable property damage, put France -- in images
of burning cars and riot police clashing with hooded youths
-- on television screens around the world, and shook the
confidence of the French in the "French integration model"
and their society's capacity to integrate its recent waves of
immigrants. The unrest, which began in the suburbs of Paris,
soon spread to disadvantaged neighborhoods in cities and
towns across the country. The extent of the unrest was
sobering. During the weeks of turmoil some 300 towns were
affected, more than 6,000 cars were burned, and some 1,800
individuals were taken in for questioning. The relentless
deployment of police and gendarmes led some police union
leaders to caution about overstretch of individuals and
units. During the unrest, the government invoked emergency
measures, including curfews, last used in the 1960s during
the war in Algeria. But there was only one death, and it was
not attributed to any police action.

Poor Suburbs Remain Troubled
3. (SBU) At the center of this unrest last year were groups
of youths, some barely in their teens. These youths are
almost all of Arab or African (and mostly Muslim)
backgrounds. By and large, last year and now, religion is
not particularly important in their lives. These youths have
been characterized as "the third generation;" their immigrant
grandparents often having come to France from rural
backgrounds with little education to fill the most menial
jobs. The majority of these youths are French citizens, who
have only known the stressful impoverishment and mean streets
of France's suburban neighborhoods. There is considerable
disagreement as to the exact composition and size of the
"socially excluded" population of which these youths are a
part. The French government termed 75 neighborhoods
"sensitive urban zones." In particular the young in this
population feel disconnected from the national culture,
brought from their North- and Sub-Saharan African countries
of origin, that may have structured life for parents and
grandparents. These youths also feel little connection to
French culture (indeed, they feel stonily rejected by French
society). As the mayor of one of these beleaguered "urban
zones" (Clichy-sur-Bois) put it to Poloff in a recent
conversation, "these kids start seeing themselves as citizens
of nothing." In addition to the fear and anger that
dominates their lives, most also suffer from low self-esteem
and lack of confidence -- which compounds the difficulty of
getting a job. The mayors of these towns are unanimous in
their conviction that if parents and kids had jobs, most of
their towns' social problems would go away. But that has not
yet happened. According to the Ministry of Employment Social
Cohesion and Housing's Task Force on Sensitive Urban Zones
the unemployment rate in these areas is over 21 percent
overall (and rising), and, for young men under 25, it jumps
to 36 percent (2005 figures).

Four Buses Burned in Past Week

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4. (SBU) In the week preceding the "anniversary" of the
beginning of last year's unrest, four buses have been burned
in troubled suburban neighborhoods. In these attacks --
according to police, clearly planned rather than random
violence -- large groups of hooded youths waited in ambush
near a stop for a bus to pull up, then streamed aboard,
forced the passengers and driver off the bus, and then
torched the vehicle. So far, there have been no injuries in
these attacks. One of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy's
closest advisors flatly told Poloff on October 26 that "these
attacks are countermoves against us by the criminal elements
in the suburbs because we are succeeding against them." The
similarity of the "tactics" used in the four incidents, the
organization exhibited by the attackers, and the fact that
some of the attackers may have been armed with guns -- still
relatively hard to obtain in France -- lends credence to the
view that these recent incidents may well be an effort by the
criminal organizations that also thrive in France's poor
suburbs to "hit back" against the interior ministry's
aggressive anti-crime efforts in these areas.

"The Fuse and the Powder Keg"
5. (SBU) In the aftermath of last year's unrest, Prime
Minister Dominique de Villepin promised to make taking action
against the problems underlying the violence his government's
top priority. Villepin laid out an ambitious agenda to
increase equal opportunity, adapt education, generate jobs
and provide housing, and there has been some incremental
progress. But the underlying situation remains largely
unchanged, leading to a climate in which a constantly
simmering, low level of violence -- setting fire to garbage
bins, taunting police and tossing rocks and bottles at
passing police cars, etc. risks boiling over. The mayors of
many of these towns, recently interviewed for press reports
on the situation, nearly all expressed their apprehension
that an unforeseen incident could spark a reaction of rage,
and set off another wave of widespread unrest. In the words
of Jean-Christophe Lagarde, mayor of Drancy (also in the
suburbs of Paris), "It's not enough to stamp out the fuse
that leads to the powder keg; we've also got to empty the
powder keg."

Long-term Programs to "Empty the Powder Keg"
6. (SBU) Over the last twelve months the Villepin government
has reinforced many existing social programs and undertaken a
number of new initiatives. Social Solidarity Minister
Jean-Louis Borloo, who oversees a massive range of long-term
housing and employment services programs, has claimed, in
effect, that the powder keg, albeit slowly, is being emptied
as well as can reasonably be expected. In this view,
bettering social conditions in France's poor suburbs is
clearly a long-term undertaking, eventual success of which is
highly dependent on political leadership and effective social
and economic policy. A convincing vision of an equal
opportunity France must be articulated, along with
implementation of polices that channel the effects of
economic growth, expansion of labor markets, investment in
human capital, etc., to those most in need of launching their
boats on the rising tide. Borloo is the government's leading
spokesperson for what he calls "realism" about what it will
take to engineer lasting social progress. Critics of the
government, particularly the opposition Socialist Party (PS)
mayors of these often formerly working class suburbs, argue
the government is moving too slowly and that its programs are
overly geared to the long term.

Visible Fixes and Short-term Hopes
7. (SBU) Citing France's egalitarian "republicanism," PM
Villepin and President Chirac have rejected outright any
steps towards affirmative action (called "positive
discrimination" in France). However, Villepin spearheaded
draft legislation to create an agency for equal opportunity,
and initiated programs to guarantee access to top
universities for minority students. Villepin also pushed
programs to permit apprenticeships starting at age 14 for
students in difficulty (an exception to France's current
child labor standards and to its current school attendance
standards), and institute voluntary civic service. The new
Equal Opportunity Agency, which is only now getting off the

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ground, has just been accorded a 2007 budget of more than 500
million Euros (627 million Dollars). The agency aims to help
people in disadvantaged neighborhoods and immigrant
populations to fight discrimination and make up their
educational shortfalls. The agency will also encourage
voluntary community service.

While Reforming Immigration and Deterring Crime
--------------------------------------------- --
8. (SBU) To address the concerns of the silent majority
frightened by the unrest, the government also tightened some
immigration controls and showed itself tough on crime. In
November 2005, primarily to discourage illegal migration
through fraudulent marriage and parentage claims, it made
some minor changes to immigration regulation. Interior
Minister (and presidential hopeful) Nicholas Sarkozy has gone
even further, proposing to his EU counterparts the creation
of an EU-wide immigration policy that would prohibit mass
amnesties and humanitarian parole except on a case-by-case
basis. He has also urged tougher treatment of youthful
offenders, advocating treating repeat offenders ages 16 to 18
as adults rather than minors, and recommending mandatory
minimum sentences for those who attack police officers. This
latest proposal came after several recent incidents in which
large numbers of urban youth -- 50 or more -- attacked
officers trying to make arrests or patrol in their
neighborhoods. The rising numbers of police officers injured
in the line of duty, an increase in part due to
confrontations in troubled suburbs, is itself a matter of
concern to the public, police authorities, and police unions.
On October 17, at ceremony honoring officers injured in the
line of duty, Interior Minister Sarkozy paid tribute to the
"2,890 police officer injured in the line of duty since
January 1, 2006."

Crime and Prejudice, and Social Unrest
9. (SBU) Some police representatives, and many Sarkozy
supporters, attribute much of the persisting violence not to
rampaging youths but to crime bosses in the neighborhoods,
who have a strong interest in keeping drug markets and other
activities free of police interference. But the interaction
of the police with residents of these communities,
particularly their young men, may also be a negative
contributing factor. Anecdotal evidence suggests strongly
that police officers sometimes single out young Arabs or
Africans walking on the street and ask them for
identification papers. Moreover, the residents of
disadvantaged neighborhoods resent police checkpoints and
constant surveillance of their neighborhoods by undercover
police officers in unmarked cars. (The youths who died by
electrocution a year ago, according to some press reports,
initially ran away from a police checkpoint.) The cycle of
mistrust and resentment thus engendered -- and captured so
vividly already years ago in a French film called "Hatred" --
risks making a bad situation worse and could spark the very
outbreaks of violence it aims to preempt.

Sarkozy, Suburban Unrest, and the Presidential Campaign
--------------------------------------------- ----------
10. (SBU) What to do about the security dimension of the
problem -- both the organized crime and the simmering social
unrest -- in these neighborhoods puts Interior Minister
Nicolas Sarkozy at center stage. Sarkozy, who is also a
leading candidate for election as France's president in next
Spring's election, has founded his credibility as a national
leader on his commitment to law-and-order. Sarkozy has
continued to emphasize police presence and zero-tolerance
towards law-breakers as essential if "the Republic is to
protect all its citizens on all its territory." Sarkozy's
detractors argue that this "repressive" strategy (its
implementation on the ground often entrusted to inexperienced
policemen) has served to exacerbate tensions, creating a
dynamic of challenge and response between youths and police
that has served to make a bad situation worse. True to form,
Sarkozy has stuck to his guns, aggressively defending his
policies and the work being done by his policemen and women.
In a series of recent, (and, as usual, also highly publicized
appearances), Sarkozy has projected himself as the political
leader most credibly engaged on the front lines of the
cross-cutting issues of immigration reform, domestic
tranquility, and safe streets. These issues, all largely

PARIS 00007084 004.2 OF 004

driven by the fears generated by the violence perpetrated by
the minority of angry, alienated youngsters in suburban
neighborhoods, are likely to be significant factors in the
upcoming presidential campaign.
Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: fm

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