France must tackle ‘social, ethnic apartheid’

• Police arrest Chechens suspected of preparing attack

DEADLY shootings by homegrown Islamists have cast a light on France’s “geographical, social and ethnic apartheid”, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday in one of the starkest indictments of French society by a government figure.

  The January 7-9 attacks on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris have plunged France into a soul-searching debate to assess how the three gunmen were radicalised and how to prevent a repeat of violence that claimed 17 victims, Reuters reported.

  “These last few days have underscored a lot of evil that is gnawing at our country and challenges we must be equal to,” Valls said at a New Year’s address to the media.

  “We have to look at all the divisions, the tensions that have been going on for years … the neglect of the suburbs, the ghettos, the social misery,” he said. “A geographical, social and ethnic apartheid has established itself in our country.”

  Meanwhile, Police arrested five Chechens in southern France on suspicion of preparing an attack, a police source said Tuesday.

  The source said four of them were arrested in Montpellier and a fifth in Beziers. According to Midi Libre newspaper, a cache of explosives was also found, and investigations were continuing.

  The arrests came after 17 people were killed in Islamist militant attacks in Paris two weeks ago.

  Run-down neighborhoods ring many French cities, often populated by poor Whites, Blacks and people of North African descent who feel marginalised from mainstream society. Yet it is rare for a French leader, even from the ruling Socialists, to paint a picture of inequality in such strong terms.

The three killers were of Algerian and African descent, prompting some in the National Front to push their calls for less immigration – an argument the government has rejected.

  Riots erupted across many of France’s powder-keg suburbs in 2005 and have shaken depressed districts at regular intervals in the past decade.

  The unrest is often blamed on a combination of unemployment rates in such zones as high as 40 per cent, racial discrimination and perceived hostile policing.

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