FRENCH authorities were on alert last night amid fears that clashes between police and young people in the cities of Toulouse and Amiens could spread across the country.
Seventeen officers were injured, a pre-school and public gym were set ablaze and at least three drivers in Amiens were dragged from their cars.
The immediate cause of the riots was unclear but a standoff between police and people attending a memorial for a young man who died in a motor-cycle accident may have been a trigger. Officials said police were not involved in the death.
The violence shows how little relations have changed between police and youths in France's housing projects since nationwide riots in 2005 raged unchecked for nearly a month, leaving entire neighbourhoods in flames.
The sister of the young man who died in the accident said it was impossible for people in her community to even speak to local police officers.
"As soon as they see young people, it's to handcuff them or harass them," Sabrina Hadji, 22, said. "The dialogue is completely broken."
Less than two weeks ago, the French Government declared Amiens among 15 impoverished zones to receive more money and security but many people remain frustrated at what they see as official indifference to their situations.
Unemployment skews higher in northern France and among the country's youth, especially people of north African origin.
At the height of the confrontation, 150 officers — local and federal riot police — faced off against young men who fired buckshot and fireworks, skirmishing through Amiens, about 120km north of Paris. There were no arrests.
Anger was still running high when Interior Minister Manuel Valls arrived in the neighborhood yesterday.
A small group of people tried to push through his security detail as he walked through the area, alternately booing him, cursing him and trying to speak to him.
— Associated Press