Sarkozy pledges more help for riot-hit areas

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged Friday to send thousands of extra police and more than $700 million in aid to neglected, heavily immigrant neighborhoods that exploded in riots in 2005 and 2006.

Sarkozy unveiled the much-awaited plan for reinvigorating isolated suburban housing projects and better integrating their youth into French society. The conservative president stressed the importance of new security measures, and declared a "war without mercy" against drug traffickers in such neighborhoods.

"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."

Sarkozy also announced plans to bus students to schools in different neighborhoods to better mix social classes -- and races -- a subject often taboo in France.

"Together we will build a France proud of its diversity," he said, adding that young people should not have a hard time getting work because of the color of their skin.

The riots in 2005, a three-week explosion of car burnings and other violence in projects nationwide, woke up the country to the seething anger among youths over discrimination, joblessness and alienation. Many of the rioters were Arab or black, French-born children or grandchildren of immigrants from France's former colonies.

Sarkozy, as interior minister before his election as president last year, angered many people in the housing projects by calling youth delinquents "scum" and through 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.

She announced outlines of it Jan. 22, but Sarkozy said he wanted a say, and the plan released Friday appeared to have several new measures.

The gilded halls of the presidential palace were packed for the announcement with guests from the neighborhoods the plan is aimed at, including young people, local officials and people from neighborhood associations.

Sarkozy noted that past government plans have failed to overcome the ills of housing projects, and vowed that this plan would break the pattern.