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France injects funds into problem areas

02 August 2013, 15:07

Paris - Two weeks after a spurt of rioting in a far-flung Paris suburb, President Francois Hollande is injecting a new dose of funds to help cure one of France's most persistent problem areas - the suburban housing projects with their volatile mix of joblessness, high immigration, crime and despair.

The government is counting on state-sponsored jobs and improved lodging to help the millions of people, often immigrants who don't speak French, living in pockets of poverty that ring major cities.

Hollande's cure, some €5bn of direct state investment with the hope it will attract €15bn more, is a small response to a problem that has dogged three presidents and, Hollande has said, has only long-term solutions. But he is optimistic.

The plan was being presented to the Cabinet on Friday, two days after Hollande visited Clichy-Sous-Bois, northeast of Paris, the town that since 2005 has symbolised urban unrest.

Three weeks of fiery riots that started in Clichy-Sous-Bois hopscotched around the housing projects of France.

The unrest was France's wakeup call to the urban misery long hidden from view, in part because of poor transport to the nearby hub cities.

Two days of riots two weeks ago, with dozens of cars set afire in Trappes, a suburb southwest of Paris, was a new reminder of the simmering anger.

The unrest there was triggered by the arrest of a man who allegedly attacked a police officer for ticketing his wife for covering her face with an Islamic veil - banned in French streets.

But urban experts and residents said the veil issue covered the deep concerns over unemployment, discrimination, poor integration of many residents and despair over the future.

"Social misery is deep. All of that came to the surface over a veil," said Trappes resident Armel Angoula, 38, a home nurse.

An optimistic outlook

During his Wednesday visit to Clichy-Sous-Bois, Hollande refused to comment on the unrest in Trappes and neighbouring cities, but he acknowledged that suburban projects remain a tinderbox despite the injection of tens of billions of euros since 2005.

"The slow-burning fuse is still lit but, while this fuse burns slowly, we can stop it with projects that are long-term, very long-term," he said.

In Clichy-Sous-Bois, population 30 000, the jobless rate is over 20% - twice the national average - and soars to about 40% for those under 25.

But the presidential message was one of optimism. He pointed to changes wrought in Clichy-Sous-Bois where urban renovation has been underway since 2005 - but which just this year will get its first unemployment agency.

Hollande's plan for urban renovation is spread over 1 300 priority neighbourhoods, chosen for their high levels of poverty, but zeroes in on 230 of them.

He instigated a plan this month, called "Real Jobs", in which companies that hire under-30s in impoverished areas, who have been unemployed for at least a year, receive €5 000 from the state. The goal is to recruit 10 000 people within three years.

France began injecting funds into its housing projects in 2004 under president Jacques Chirac a year before the riots, with a €12bn plan over 10 years that grew to €40bn with private investments.

More than 91 000 buildings have been razed and about 81 000 new ones built.

- AP


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