Youth gang train attack 'cover-up'

PARIS - Opposition politicians yesterday accused the French Government of covering up a sustained attack by a gang of 20 youths on a crowded train near Nice on New Year's Day.

The youths robbed and sexually assaulted passengers at knife-point, smashed windows and slashed seats.

No information on the incident was released by French authorities, who announced that the New Year festivities had passed off without a widely feared resumption of the violence seen in deprived suburbs last November.

The Socialist former Education and Culture Minister, Jack Lang, accused the Government of "disinformation".

The Socialist Party issued a statement accusing the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, of imposing a "stupefying silence" on the train attack.

Details of the incident emerged only when two youths appeared in court three days later, accused of robbery and sexual assault.

Over 100 youths, from deprived districts of Marseilles and Avignon, had been escorted on to the train by police at Nice in the early hours of New Year's Day.

The youths had taken advantage of an offer from the French railways, the SNCF, to travel to Riviera resorts for New Year's Eve for only €1.20 return.

Once SNCF security officers had got off the train at Saint-Raphael, a gang of 20 youths terrorised other passengers, stealing their wallets and sexually assaulting two young women.

Sarkozy yesterday blamed the SNCF for the incident, complaining that the police had not been warned that the bargain fares might attract trouble-makers.

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