Tensions high in Grenoble after weekend of violence

 

TENSIONS WERE running high in Grenoble last night after four people were arrested on suspicion of having opened fire at police officers during a weekend of violent clashes between young people and police.

As dusk fell, more than 30 riot police vans joined dozens of heavily-armed officers from two elite national units lined up in black balaclavas along Avenue Marie Reynoard in Villeneuve, a run-down district on the outskirts of the southeastern French city. Riots broke out here on Friday night following a memorial service for a local resident killed the day before in a shootout with police. The dead man, Karim Boudouda (27), had allegedly taken part in the armed robbery of a casino, and a prosecutor said police acted in legitimate self-defence after they were fired on three times following a car chase.

The incident sparked serious unrest over the weekend, with at least 65 cars burned and a tense standoff developing between police and a gang of up to 50 youths armed with baseball bats and stones, according to police.

With many locals fearing more violence, the roads in Villeneuve were virtually deserted last night. Small groups of youths gathered outside the tall grey towers that dominate the suburb, while just 100 metres away, hundreds of riot police looked on.

A regional security official, Brigitte Julien, said four people were detained yesterday on suspicion of having fired at police, while seven others were being held for carrying illegal weapons or objects that could be used as missiles. No injuries were reported.

During a visit to Villeneuve on Saturday, interior minister Brice Hortefeux pledged to restore order “by all means possible”.

“We’re going to react quickly . . . We’re going to restore public order and re-establish the state’s authority,” Mr Hortefeux said at an impromptu press conference after he toured the area under heavy police protection.

“There is a simple and clear reality in this country: there is no future for hoodlums and delinquents because in the end the public authorities will always prevail.” Ms Julien said police came under fire on Friday night and early Saturday when a man broke away from a group of about 40 people and fired a number of shots with a handgun. Police responded with live rounds, and then with plastic bullets when more shots were fired in their direction later in the night.

With the arrival of 300 extra riot police and officers from an elite national unit, the violence eased somewhat on Saturday night, but the authorities said 15 cars were torched and officers came under fire at least once. A street where the most violent exchanges occurred was sealed off to traffic.

The biggest police union called for Grenoble to be given reinforcements to help local police “do their work with serenity”. As recriminations continued over the death of Mr Boudouda, meanwhile, prosecutor Jean Philippe said police had acted in legitimate self-defence when they were fired on at least three times after a car chase which ended in Villeneuve.