‘Troublemaking Outsiders’ Blamed for Violence in Student March
PARIS (AP) _ The Paris police chief Tuesday blamed himself for allowing ″troublemakers″ to mar a huge student demonstration that deteriorated into a rampage of looting and car burning. More than 230 policemen were injured.
Opposition politicians, police unions and shopowners complained of slow, ineffective police response to Monday’s rioting during a protest march by 100,000 high school students demanding better facilities, more teachers and improved security.
The violence soured the largest student demonstration in a month of protests. In addition to the Paris march, up to 200,000 students around the country marched in smaller cities.
President Francois Mitterrand urged the students to ″take up their responsibilities″ and let the government ″do its duty.″ But he promised to continue his dialogue with the students.
For their part, moderate student leaders called for a sit-in at government buildings Friday rather than a previously planned march, which they feared could turn violent. A rival, Communist-led group said it would decide later about the march.
On Monday, Mitterrand and Education Minister Lionel Jospin met with student leaders and promised an ″emergency plan″ to address their complaints.
The protests began with student strikes last month in the tough northern suburbs of Paris after a girl was gang-raped in a school lavatory and several teachers were attacked.
Police Chief Pierre Verbrugghe said the 5,000 police and plainclothes officers were under orders to use restraint Monday and waited 10 minutes before moving on looters as the march passed through Montparnasse, in southern Paris.
The march, which started at the Bastille in eastern Paris, never reached the Champs Elysees, its destination in the west. But rioting continued for nearly five more hours, mainly at the Alma Bridge over the Seine River.
Riot police eventually used water cannons and fired tear gas at demonstrators pelting them with rocks and bottles.
″We couldn’t intervene for tactical reasons,″ Verbrugghe told reporters. ″Behind the 1,000 troublemakers, there were 100,000 high school students.″
″To avoid provocations, police forces held back as far as possible from the march,″ Verbrugghe said. ″It didn’t work: we were too far back. ... I take responsibility for what happened.″
Police said Tuesday that 234 policemen were injured, four in serious condition. One student also was injured. Police said 190 cars were damaged or burned and about 100 stores pillaged or damaged.
The director of the large C & A store at the Montparnasse Tower, Olivier Dangas, said looters, some with hammers and iron bars, stole about 1,000 pieces of clothing within 10 minutes.
The chic, quiet 7th district, near the Alma Bridge, was marred with burned or damaged cars and broken shops. Residents were indignant.
″The students say they want security,″ said Jo Jamin, a local boutique owner. ″But so do we, so do we. Maybe it’s time for us to demonstrate.″
Mayor Jacques Chirac said the Interior Ministry, not the police, should be blamed for the violence. The police, he said in a radio interview, should have been instructed to act more quickly and firmly. Chirac, a conservative, is Mitterrand’s longtime rival.
Interior Minister Pierre Joxe told deputies at a budget session the safety of the students was the prime concern.
Several police unions said, however, that forces should have acted more quickly. Authorities were ″incapable of foreseeing what everyone has foreseen for days and completely incompetent to organize the maintenance of order,″ said one police group.
Although French student protests are not nearly as ideological as in decades past, education continues to be a flashpoint among social issues.
Premier Pierre Mauroy was replaced in 1984, along with the education minister, following a dispute over private and public schools. Student protests in 1986, when Chirac was premier, culminated in the death of a student and led to another change in education ministers.