Eight police officers were injured last night during a second night of rioting by youths in the far northern suburbs of Paris.
About 160 riot police came under attack in the crime-ridden district of Villiers-le-Bel, 12 miles north of the centre of the French capital. The violence was triggered on Sunday by the deaths of two boys, who were killed when their mini-motorbike collided with a police car.
A similar incident two years ago led to three weeks of rioting in poor, multi-racial suburbs across France. Despite appeals for calm by the dead boys' families, a mob of 200 youths burned a nursery school and other buildings last night. They hurled petrol bombs, stones and fire-crackers and fired airguns at police in running battles on the edge of the town.
Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and paint guns. Eight officers were injured by airgun pellets and two were taken to hospital. About half a dozen wounded officers received treatment in a fire station which was used by police as a base. One officer, his face bloodied, had his arm in a sling.
The town's mayor, Didier Vaillant, who had earlier appealed for calm, said: " It looks like it's going to be a long night."
Less serious incidents were reported in five other towns nearby.
Youths in Villiers-le-Bel alleged that the dead boys – named only as Moushin, 15, and 16-year-old Larami – were deliberately run over by a police car as they rode a miniature scrambling bike along a narrow street on Sunday night. They also claimed that two officers in the car fled without trying to help the dying boys.
"It was no accident. It was deliberate. They saw the bike and accelerated into it," said 15-year-old Seydou, who was standing near the crash scene.
"We all know what happened. It was deliberate," added a young man in his early twenties. "The police treat us like animals each day. Now, they have declared war. Well, they can have a war."
The local public prosecutor, Marie-Thérèse de Givry, dismissed these allegations yesterday and claimed three witnesses saw the bike roar out of a side street and hit the police vehicle by accident. However, she said she had begun an inquiry into alleged "manslaughter and failure to assist people in danger".
Mme. de Givry said the bike was found with its throttle wide open and the police car was travelling at only 50kph (31mph). Evidence at the scene suggested the bike was carried for 20 metres but was hardly damaged. The two boys were thrown against the police car, smashing its windscreen and twisting the bonnet.
The police initially said the motorbike was stolen but later withdrew this claim. Miniature off-road bikes are a craze in the suburbs of Paris. The model ridden by Moushin and Larami was illegal on the roads, and neither was wearing a crash helmet.
Claims of a deliberate police attack may nonetheless be accepted as fact by youths in the rundown housing estates of the capital, where confrontation with the law is a daily fact of life. For months, there have been warnings that simmering tension – even hatred – between police and youths in the poor multi-racial suburbs has not subsided since the riots of October 2005.
Violence flared in Clichy-sous-Bois, in north-east Paris, when two teenage boys died in an electricity sub-station after being chased by police.
Nearby Villiers-le-Bel is another typical suburb of Paris. A village of old stones houses, which could be anywhere in rural France, is surrounded by neat, middle-class bungalows.
These, in turn, are bordered by a sprawling estate of dilapidated, pale yellow and grey tower blocks, built in the early 1970s. The flats are occupied by immigrants of more than 30 nationalities.
Villiers-le-Bel was not affected by the 2005 riots but shares many features of other banlieues – an unemployment rate of over 20 per cent, poor transport links with the city centre and a population of 27,000, 60 per cent of whom are under 25.