UK riots parallel France

There are striking similarities between the English riots and the French suburban uprisings in late 2005.

Unlike in London, however, looting was not a big issue in France. The riots became an orgy of community "self-harm" rather than an excuse for mass theft. The French rioters did not target shops but cars, buses, schools, libraries and sports and community centres.

The biggest lesson the British Government could learn from the French authorities is, perhaps, that confrontation is counter-productive. Riots, as an outpouring of urban anger, are best left to burn themselves out. On the other hand, curfews do help by giving control to parents and community leaders.

The French violence began with the deaths of two teenage boys of Arab origin. Their deaths, after running into an electricity substation, were blamed by their friends on the police (rightly, it emerged later). The incident sparked riots in Montfermeil and Clichy-sous-Bois, suburbs northeast of Pariswhich spread to other poor suburbs of Paris and, within days, to almost every town and city in France.

Rioters used the internet and mobile phones to outwit the authorities. Over 9000 cars and 300 public buildings were set alight in the space of 20 days.

An official report later concluded that the violence was inspired by hatred of the police, unemployment, hopelessness and a copycat desire to have the same fun as the next town or housing estate.

The French riots began to abate after the Government declared a state of emergency and a curfew, which strengthened the hand not just of police but also of parents and community leaders.

The second thing the British authorities could learn from the French is the relative restraint displayed by their riot police.

Those calling in Britain for the deployment of soldiers - comparatively untrained in street control - should perhaps think again.

- INDEPENDENT

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