Sarkozy Pledges Aid, Police for Slums
Associated Press Writer
President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed Friday to transform heavily immigrant neighborhoods that exploded in violence three years ago, announcing plans to put dropouts back in school and create better public transport to help end their isolation.
No applause, and plenty of polite skepticism filled the gilded halls of the presidential Elysee Palace after Sarkozy's speech.
"There are neighborhoods in our country, in our democracy, in our republic, where people have fewer rights, fewer chances than others," Sarkozy said before 1,000 guests, including officials and residents of the projects.
Three weeks of riots in November 2005 in housing projects across France woke up a nation that was largely unaware of the anger, despair and inequality in its midst. Many of the rioters were Arab or black, French-born children or grandchildren of immigrants from France's former colonies.
A flare-up in November in one Paris suburb stoked fears that unrest could explode again.
Sarkozy said the state will contribute $728 million to create new trains and tramways to bridge the gap between isolated housing projects in outer suburbs and the cities they circle. It was the only figure provided for any of the measures in the sweeping plan.
The president also wants to lower the school dropout rate _ some 150,000 students annually. The plan would expand a network of "second chance schools" to take in up to 20,000 dropouts by 2012.
A three-year busing system experiment also would take fourth- and fifth-graders in low-performing schools to ones with better success rates, Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy said 20,000 youth wanting to start a company would be given professional guidance and 45,000 would be offered special "autonomy contracts" under which they would received training and be put on the job track.
The new plan also calls for deploying 4,000 extra police over three years in sensitive neighborhoods. It envisions recruiting "citizen volunteers" to become involved in neighborhood security and be a link between local populations and police.
Sarkozy vowed a "war without mercy" against drug traffickers.
"We will put an end to the law of gangs, the law of silence, the law of trafficking," he said, by installing new "intervention teams" mobilized day and night against an underground economy "poisoning the lives of the neighborhoods."
Hassan Ben M'Barek, president of the association Citizenship and Democracy, said he did not believe the plan "meets expectations."
"It's too bad that so much importance is given to the security issue when the relations between police and youth are already tense," he said.
The opposition Socialist Party claimed the plan simply recycled old measures and lacked vision.
Claude Dilain, mayor of Clichy-Sous-Bois _ the Paris suburb where the 2005 riots started _ said some aspects of the plan are "a bit unrealistic." "That the republic is catching up with its mistakes is good," Dilain said.
When Sarkozy was interior minister before his election to the presidency, he angered housing projects residents in 2005 by calling young delinquents "scum" and with his crackdowns on immigration.
But during his election campaign, he pledged a "Marshall Plan" for France's suburbs, and assigned Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara to come up with a vast project for fixing their woes.
Sarkozy had asked Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara to come up with a vast project to address the problems. But he complained that her plan needed "boosting" and took a personal role.
"The president ... has launched a new dynamic," Amara said later. "He is giving us a roadmap."
Associated Press writers Laurent Pirot and Jean-Marie Godard contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:01 AM
Rebels tighten hold on Libya oil port
UPDATE - 09:29 AM
Reality leads US to temper its tough talk on Libya
UPDATE - 09:38 AM
2 Ark. injection wells may be closed amid quakes