Paris Rioters Injure 80 Police, Start Using Guns

VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France -- Rioting in the tough suburbs of northern Paris took a dramatic and potentially deadly new turn with the use of firearms against police, officials said Tuesday. Police unions said some 80 officers were hurt.

The violence overnight Monday to Tuesday was more intense than during three weeks of rioting in 2005, said a senior police union official, Patrice Ribeiro. He said "genuine urban guerillas with conventional weapons and hunting weapons" were among the rioters.

The violence was triggered by the deaths of two teens in a crash with a police car Sunday in Villiers-le-Bel, a blue-collar town in Paris' northern suburbs.

Residents claimed that the officers left the crash scene without helping the teens, whose motorbike collided with the car. Officials cast doubt on the claim, but the internal police oversight agency was investigating.

Rioting first erupted in Villiers-le-Bel on Sunday night. It grew worse and spread Monday night to other towns north of Paris. Rioters hurled stones and gasoline bombs at police, authorities said.

The use of firearms added a dangerous new dimension. Guns were rarely used in the 2005 riots, which spread to poor housing projects nationwide.

Police are facing "a situation that is far worse than that of 2005," said Ribeiro, national secretary of the Synergie officers union.

"Our colleagues will not allow themselves to be fired upon indefinitely without responding," he warned on RTL radio. "They will be placed in situations which will become untenable."

President Nicolas Sarkozy was out of the country, visiting China. He appealed from there for calm and called a security meeting with his ministers for Wednesday, upon his return to France.

Sarkozy was interior minister, in charge of police, during the riots of 2005, giving him hands-on experience of this type of urban unrest. The violence two years ago also started in the suburbs of northern Paris, when two teens were electrocuted in a power substation while hiding from police.

Firearms are widespread in France, and police generally carry guns.

On Monday night, youths were seen firing buckshot at police and reporters. A police union official said a round from a hunting rifle pierced the body armor of one officer, who suffered a serious shoulder wound. Ribeiro said 77 officers were injured; other unions said 75 to 80 officers were hurt.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said there were six serious injuries, "people who notably were struck in the face and close to the eyes." The firing of hunting weapons at police "is totally unacceptable," she added, promising reinforced security measures for Tuesday night.

"The violence has escalated," said police union leader Jean-Claude Delage. "Young thugs today don't think twice about shooting a gun, big calibers, at the forces of order."

In Villiers-le-Bel, arsonists set fire to the municipal library and burned books littered its floor. Shops and businesses were also attacked and more than 70 vehicles were torched, authorities said. Violence was also reported in four other towns north of Paris and on the outskirts of Villiers-le-Bel, suggesting that the rioting was spreading.