Riot police firing tear gas and brandishing batons clashed Tuesday with bands of youths who shattered windows and looted shops at a major Paris train station, officials said. Nine people were arrested.
Officials said about 100 people were involved in the melee at Gare du Nord, one of Paris' most important transport hubs. Officers, some with police dogs, fired tear gas and charged at groups of marauding youths, some of them wearing hoods and swinging metal bars.
The youths responded by throwing trash cans and other objects at the officers. A group of youths smashed the windows of a sporting goods store and looted boxes of shoes. Others attacked automatic drink dispensers and set fire to an information booth.
Commuter Cyril Zidou, a 24-year-old electrician, said he was coming home from the gym ``when I just got gassed.'' One woman was evacuated by paramedics for inhalation of tear gas.
The violence did not appear directly related to France's presidential election less than a month away, but it highlighted the social and economic tensions that the country's new leader will inherit when he or she takes power in May.
The train lines from Gare du Nord radiate out to the same suburbs north of Paris where three weeks of rioting erupted in 2005. That violence was born of pent-up anger - especially among youths of Arab and African origin - over years of high unemployment and racial inequalities.
The melee spilled onto the surrounding streets late Tuesday as officers cleared the station. Police ordered spectators to disperse and threatened to charge as small groups of youths set fire to wooden barricades and garbage cans and pelted passing tourist buses with sticks.
Zidou said the violence had echoes of the riots in 2005. ``They never finished,'' he said. ``It slowed down a bit, but it was never over.''
Another commuter, Guy Elkoun, said: ``There's always a feeling of insecurity in this train station ... I knew this could happen someday.''
Officials from Paris' RATP public transport authority said the violence started after a man without a Metro ticket punched two inspectors during a routine ticket check. Youths also attacked the inspectors and later turned on police patrolling the station, officials said.
``The inspectors were hit with projectiles, as were the officers who came to assist them,'' said Luc Poignant, an official for the Force Ouvriere police union.
But youths at the station said Tuesday's clashes started when police manhandled a young person of North African origin. Some claimed that the youth's arm was broken in the confrontation.
The clashes forced subway and commuter lines to skip their stops at the station for several hours. Its long-distance rail hub and terminal for Eurostar trains that go to Britain were unaffected.
Shopkeeper Mohamed Mamouni said he was bedding down overnight in his cell phone store to guard it. He said he chased away youths who smashed a hole in his window.
``I arrived just in time,'' he said.
Source: Guardian (English)