Tuesday, January 22, 2008

France to Outline Blueprint Plan For Rebellion-struck Suburbs

France to outline blueprint plan for riot-hit suburbs

VAULX-EN-VELIN, France (AFP) - - French ministers are Tuesday to unveil a blueprint for tackling unemployment and discrimination in hundreds of low-income, high-immigrant suburbs that exploded into rioting in 2005.

Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara, a women's rights activist of Algerian origin who grew up in a housing project, was to conclude four months of nationwide consultations in the Lyon suburb of Vaulx-en-Velin.

The suburb plan aims to improve living conditions, education and job prospects in the low-income "banlieues", where the descendants of African and Arab immigrants say they are treated like outcasts in French society.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who promised a "Marshall Plan" to tackle the root causes of the riots during his election campaign, was reportedly disappointed with Amara's initial plan, postponing its official launch until next month.

The president made his first trip to the suburbs since his election Monday night, visiting a police station in Sartrouville west of Paris and launching an ad-hoc discussion with local youths who quizzed him about jobs and training.

He promised to return to Sartrouville to unveil the suburb plan's full details on February 8, promising it would include training for youths without high-school diplomas.

"We won't let anyone down, on one condition: that those who have been given advice and training make the effort to get up in the morning," he told the youths.

Sarkozy has said the plan would be "extremely ambitious", focussing on "people rather than places", but Amara has warned the scale of the suburbs' problems requires long-term investments and a radical shift in government policy.

Sarkozy's tough line on law and order as interior minister made him a hate figure for many suburb youths, who voted massively against him last May.

Amid signs the "banlieue" plan may be falling into disarray, the government announced last week it was bringing back neighborhood police units to the troubled suburbs, scrapped six years ago when Sarkozy was interior minister.

The opposition Socialists had repeatedly criticised Sarkozy for dismantling the units and accused him of turning the police into a tool of state repression in the suburbs.

France's "banlieues" have remained tense since the 2005 riots, the country's worst civil unrest in decades, which largely pitted suburban youths of immigrant background against police.

The Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel witnessed a flare-up of violence in November, before hundreds of police officers were dispatched to restore order.

Vaulx-en-Velin, chosen to unveil the blueprint, is emblematic of France's troubled suburbs: a town of 40,000 people, the poorest in the region, where unemployment hovers at more than twice the national average of eight percent, with peaks of 40 percent in some areas.

In 1979, a high-rise estate in Vaulx-en-Velin was the scene of France's first ever suburb riot as frustrated immigrant youths torched cars and clashed with police. Violence flared again in 1990 with three days of full-scale riots.

Despite an ambitious urban renovation plan, with hundreds of millions of euros poured into the town since the 1980s, jobless rates remain sky-high, and Vaulx exploded into violence along with hundreds of suburbs in late 2005.

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