2005 civil unrest in France

2005 civil unrest in France
Various scenes from the civil unrest

The 2005 civil unrest in France of October and November (in French Les émeutes des banlieues de 2005) was a series of riots by mostly Muslim North African youths in Paris and other French cities,[1][2] involving mainly the burning of cars and public buildings at night starting on 27 October 2005 in Clichy-sous-Bois. Events spread to poor housing projects (the cités HLM) in various parts of France. A state of emergency was declared on 8 November 2005. It was extended for three months on 16 November by the Parliament.[3][4][5]



While tension had been building among the juvenile population in France, action was not taken until the reopening of schools in Autumn, since most of the French population is on holiday during the late summer months. However, riots began on Thursday 27 October 2005, triggered by the deaths of two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois, a poor commune in an eastern banlieue (suburb) of Paris. Initially confined to the Paris area, the unrest subsequently spread to other areas of the Île-de-France région, and spread through the outskirts of France's urban areas, also affecting some rural areas. After 3 November it spread to other cities in France, affecting all 15 of the large aires urbaines in the country. Thousands of vehicles were burned, and at least one person was killed by the rioters. Close to 2900 rioters were arrested.

On 8 November, President Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency effective at midnight. Despite the new regulations, riots continued, though on a reduced scale, the following two nights, and again worsened the third night. On 9 November and the morning of 10 November a school was burned in Belfort, and there was violence in Toulouse, Lille, Strasbourg, Marseille, and Lyon.

On 10 November and the morning of 11 November, violence increased overnight in the Paris region, and there were still a number of police wounded across the country.[6] According to the Interior Minister, violence, arson, and attacks on police worsened on the 11th and morning of the 12th, and there were further attacks on power stations, causing a blackout in the northern part of Amiens.

Rioting took place in the city center of Lyon on Saturday, 12 November, as young people attacked cars and threw rocks at riot police who responded with tear gas. Also that night, a nursery school was torched in the southern town of Carpentras.[7]

On the night of the 14th and the morning of the 15th, 215 vehicles were burned across France and 71 people were arrested. Thirteen vehicles were torched in central Paris, compared to only one the night before. In the suburbs of Paris, firebombs were thrown at the treasury in Bobigny and at an electrical transformer in Clichy-sous-Bois, the neighborhood where the disturbances started. A daycare centre in Cambrai and a tourist agency in Fontenay-sous-Bois were also attacked. Eighteen buses were damaged by arson at a depot in Saint-Étienne. The mosque in Saint-Chamond was hit by three firebombs, which did little damage.

A burnt car in Paris' suburbs

Only 163 vehicles went up in flames on the 20th night of unrest, 15 to 16 November, leading the French government to claim that the country was returning to an "almost normal situation". During the night's events, a Roman Catholic church was burned and a vehicle was rammed into an unoccupied police station in Romans-sur-Isère. In other incidents, a police officer was injured while making an arrest after youths threw bottles of acid at the town hall in Pont-l'Évêque, and a junior high school in Grenoble was set on fire. Fifty arrests were carried out across the country.[8]

On 16 November, the French parliament approved a three-month extension of the state of emergency (which ended on 4 January 2006) aimed at curbing riots by urban youths. The Senate on Wednesday passed the extension - a day after a similar vote in the lower house. The laws allow local authorities to impose curfews, conduct house-to-house searches and ban public gatherings. The lower house passed them by a 346-148 majority, and the Senate by 202-125.[9]

A wine festival in Grenoble, Le Beaujolais nouveau, ended in rioting on the night of 18 November, with a crowd throwing rocks and bottles at riot police. Tear gas was deployed by officers. Sixteen youths and 17 police officers were injured. Though those events might have been easily linked with the riots in Paris suburbs, it appears they differ completely in nature and might just well be considered as predictable "wine festival" casualties, caused by misunderstanding and alcohol.

Triggering event

Areas of Rioting in the Paris region as of 4 November

Citing two police investigations, The New York Times reported that the incident began at 17:20 on Thursday, 27 October 2005 in Clichy-sous-Bois when police were called to a construction site to investigate a possible break-in. Three teenagers, thinking they were being chased by the police, climbed a wall to hide in a power substation. Six youths were detained by 17:50. During questioning at the police station in Livry-Gargan at 18:12, blackouts occurred at the station and in nearby areas. These were caused, police say, by the electrocution of two boys, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré; a third boy, Muhittin Altun, suffered electric shock injury from the power substation they were hiding in.[10][11]

"According to statements by Mr. Altun, who remains hospitalized with injuries, a group of ten or so friends had been playing football on a nearby field and were returning home when they saw the police patrol. They all fled in different directions to avoid the lengthy questioning that youths in the housing projects say they often face from the police. They say they are required to present identity papers and can be held as long as four hours at the police station, and sometimes their parents must come before the police will release them." - NY Times[10]

There is controversy over whether the teens were actually being chased. The local prosecutor, François Molins, said that although they believed so, the police were actually after other suspects attempting to avoid an identity check.[12] Molins and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy maintained that the dead teenagers had not been "physically pursued" by the police. This is disputed by some: The Australian reports, "Despite denials by police officials and Sarkozy and de Villepin, friends of the boys said they were being pursued by police after a false accusation of burglary and that they "feared interrogation".

This event ignited pre-existing tensions. Protesters told The Associated Press the unrest was an expression of frustration with high unemployment and police harassment and brutality. "People are joining together to say we've had enough", said one protester. "We live in ghettos. Everyone lives in fear."[13] The rioters' suburbs are also home to a large, mostly North African, immigrant population, allegedly adding religious tensions, which some right-wing commentators believed contribute further to such frustrations. However, according to Pascal Mailhos, head of the Renseignements Généraux (French intelligence agency) radical Islamism had no influence over the 2005 civil unrest in France.[14]


Commenting other demonstrations in Paris a few months later, the BBC summarised reasons behind the events included youth unemployment and lack of opportunities in France's poorest communities.[15] This is still a trend occurring in French suburbs today.

The head of the Direction centrale des renseignements généraux found no Islamic factor in the riots, while the New York Times reported on 5 November 2005 that "majority of the youths committing the acts are Muslim, and of African or North African origin" local youths adding that "many children of native French have also taken part."[16]

The BBC reported that French society's negative perceptions of Islam and social discrimination of immigrants had alienated some French Muslims and may have been a factor in the causes of the riots; "Islam is seen as the biggest challenge to the country's secular model in the past 100 years".[17] It reported that there was a "huge well of fury and resentment among the children of North African and African immigrants in the suburbs of French cities".[18] However, the editorial also questioned whether or not such alarm is justified, citing that France's Muslim ghettos are not hotbeds of separatism and that "the suburbs are full of people desperate to integrate into the wider society."[19]

There is a common perception, especially among foreigners and descendants of the recent waves of immigration,[20][21][22] that French society has long made a practice of hiding, or at least whitewashing, its numerous signs and symptoms of racism,[23][24][25] xenophobia and classism, by all accounts at least equal in intensity to those in other European countries.[26] Racial and social discrimination against people with "typically" African phenotypes or Arabic and/or African-sounding names has been cited as a major cause of unhappiness in the areas affected. According to the BBC, "Those who live there say that when they go for a job, as soon as they give their name as "Mamadou" and say they live in Clichy-sous-Bois, they are immediately told that the vacancy has been taken." The nonprofit organization SOS Racisme, associated with the French Socialist Party (PS), said that after they sent identical curriculum vitae (CVs) to French companies with European- and African or Muslim-sounding names attached, they found CVs with African or Muslim sounding names were systematically discarded. In addition, they have claimed widespread use of markings indicating ethnicity in employers' databases and that discrimination is more widespread for those with college degrees than for those without.[27][28]

Assessment of rioting

Assessments of the extent of violence and damage that occurred during the riots are under way. Figures may be incomplete or inaccurate. Some French media sources, including France 3, have decided not to report the extent of damage to avoid any risk of inflaming the situation.

Summary statistics

  • Started: 17:20 on Thursday, 27 October 2005 in Clichy-sous-Bois.
  • Towns affected: 274 (on 7 November[29])
  • Property damage: 8,973 vehicles (Not including buildings).
  • Monetary damage: Estimated at €200 Million.
  • Arrests: 2,888
  • Deaths: 2 (Salah Gaham and Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec)
  • Police and firefighters injured: 126

Figures and tables

Note: In the table and charts, events reported as occurring during a night and the following morning are listed as occurring on the day of the morning. The timeline article does the opposite.

Map showing the spread of civil unrest through the many different regions of France
  Departments with more car burnings than usual
  Departments with more car burnings than usual the day before
  Full extent

day No. of vehicles burned arrests extent of riots sources
1. Friday 28 October 2005 NA 27 Clichy-sous-Bois [5]
2. Saturday 29 October 2005 29 14 Clichy-sous-Bois [6]
3. Sunday 30 October 2005 30 19 Clichy-sous-Bois [7]
4. Monday 31 October 2005 NA NA Clichy-sous-Bois, Montfermeil  
5. Tuesday 1 November 2005 69 NA Seine-Saint-Denis [8]
6. Wednesday 2 November 2005 40 NA Seine-Saint-Denis, Seine-et-Marne, Val-de-Marne Val-d'Oise, Hauts-de-Seine  
7. Thursday 3 November 2005 315 29 Île-de-France, Dijon, Rouen, Bouches-du-Rhône, Planoise (one death) [9]
8. Friday 4 November 2005 596 78 Île-de-France, Dijon, Rouen, Marseille [10] [11]
9. Saturday 5 November 2005 897 253 Île-de-France, Rouen, Dijon, Marseille, Évreux, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Hem, Strasbourg, Rennes, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Pau, Lille [12] [13]
10. Sunday 6 November 2005 1,295 312 Île-de-France, Nord, Eure, Eure-et-Loir, Haute-Garonne, Loire-Atlantique, Essonne. [14]
11. Monday 7 November 2005 1,408 395 274 towns in total. Île-de-France, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Midi-Pyrénées, Rhône-Alpes, Alsace, Franche-Comté. [15] [16] [17]
12. Tuesday 8 November 2005 1,173 330 Paris region, Lille, Auxerre, Toulouse, Alsace, Lorraine, Franche-Comté, Angers [18] [19] [20]
13. Wednesday 9 November 2005 617 280 116 towns in total. Paris region, Toulouse, Rhône, Gironde, Arras, Grasse, Dole, Bassens [21][22]

[23][24] [25]

14. Thursday 10 November 2005 482 203 Toulouse, Belfort [26] [27]


15. Friday 11 November 2005 463 201 Toulouse, Lille, Lyon, Strasbourg, Marseille [29]
16. Saturday 12 November 2005 502 206 NA [30]
17. Sunday 13 November 2005 374 212 Lyon, Toulouse, Carpentras, Dunkirk, Amiens, Grenoble fr:Violences urbaines de 2005 en banlieue française#Bilan des journées passées
18. Monday 14 November 2005 284 115 Toulouse, Faches-Thumesnil, Halluin, Grenoble [31]
19. Tuesday 15 November 2005 215 71 Saint-Chamond, Bourges [32]


20. Wednesday 16 November 2005 163 50 Paris region, Arras, Brest, Vitry-le-François, Romans-sur-Isère [34] [35]
TOTAL 20 nights 8,973 2,888    


Allegations of an organized plot and Nicolas Sarkozy's controversial comments

Nicolas Sarkozy, interior minister at the time, declared a "zero tolerance" policy towards urban violence after the fourth night of riots and announced that 17 companies of riot police (C.R.S.) and seven mobile police squadrons (escadrons de gendarmerie mobile) would be stationed in contentious Paris neighborhoods.

The families of the two youths killed, after refusing to meet with Sarkozy, met with Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. Azouz Begag, delegate minister for the promotion of equal opportunity, criticized Sarkozy for the latter's use of "imprecise, warlike semantics", while Marie-George Buffet, secretary of the French Communist Party, criticized an "unacceptable strategy of tension" and "the not less inexcusable definition of French youth as 'scum'" (racaille, a term considered by some to bear implicit racial and ethnic resonances) by the Interior Minister, Sarkozy; she also called for the creation of a Parliamentary commission to investigate the circumstances of the death of the two young people, which ignited the riots.[30]

State of emergency and measures concerning immigration policy

President Jacques Chirac announced a national state of emergency on 8 November. The same day, Lilian Thuram, a famous Football player and member of the Higher Council for Integration, blamed Sarkozy.[31] He explained that discrimination and unemployment were at the root of the problem. On 9 November 2005, Nicolas Sarkozy issued an order to deport foreigners convicted of involvement, provoking concerns from the left-wing. He told parliament that 120 foreigners, "not all of whom are here illegally" — had been called in by police and accused of taking part in the nightly attacks. "I have asked the prefects to deport them from our national territory without delay, including those who have a residency visa", he said. The far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen agreed, stating that naturalized French rioters should have their citizenship revoked. The Syndicat de la Magistrature, a magistrate trade-union, criticized Sarkozy's attempts to make believe that most rioters were foreigners, whereas the huge majority of them were French citizens.[32] A demonstration against the expulsion of all foreign rioters and demanding the end of the state of emergency was called for on 15 November in Paris by left-wing and human rights organizations.

On 20 November 2005, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced tightened controls on immigration: Authorities will increase enforcement of requirements that immigrants seeking 10-year residency permits or French citizenship master the French language and integrate into society. Chirac's government also plans to crack down on fraudulent marriages that some immigrants use to acquire residency rights and launch a stricter screening process for foreign students. Anti-racism groups widely opposed the measures, saying that greater government scrutiny of immigrants could stir up racism and racist acts and that energy and money was best deployed for other uses than chasing an ultra-minority of fraudsters.


An extra 2,600 police were drafted on 6 November. On 7 November, French premier, Dominique de Villepin, announced on the TF1 television channel the deployment of 18,000 police officers, supported by a 1,500 strong reserve. Sarkozy also suspended eight police officers for beating up someone they had arrested after TV displayed the images of this act of police brutality.[33]

Media coverage

Jean-Claude Dassier, News director general at the private channel TF1 and one of France's leading TV news executives, admitted to self censoring the coverage of the riots in the country for fear of encouraging support for far-right politicians; while public television station France 3 stopped reporting the numbers of torched cars, apparently in order not to encourage "record making" between delinquent groups.[34][35]

Foreign news coverage was criticized by president Chirac as showing in some cases excessiveness (démesure)[36] and Prime Minister de Villepin said in an interview to CNN that the events should not be called riots as the situation was not violent to the extent of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, no death casualties being reported during the unrest itself – although it had begun after the deaths of two youth pursued by the police.[37]

Backlash against French Hip Hop artists

In the aftermath of the rioting there was a backlash against French rappers and hip hop artists, almost all of whom were of North African Arab heritage. These groups were accused of inciting the youth of the banlieues to riot. After the riots, two hundred French parliament members called for legal action against several French rappers, accusing them of inciting the violence .[38]

See also


  1. ^ Beaud, Stéphane; Olivier Masclet (October 2006). "Des " marcheurs " de 1983 aux " émeutiers " de 2005, deux générations sociales d’enfants d’immigrés". Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 61: 809–844. ISBN 9782200921002. http://www.cairn.info/revue-annales-2006-4-p-809.htm. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Canet, R; L Pech, M Stewart (November 2008). "France's Burning Issue: Understanding the Urban Riots of November 2005". SSRN, SSRC. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1303514. 
  3. ^ French emergency state ruled legal
  4. ^ Etat d'urgence justifié pour le ministère de l'Intérieur
  5. ^ Le Conseil d'Etat refuse de suspendre l'état d'urgence
  6. ^ Les violences se stabilisent
  7. ^ Riot erupts in French city centre
  8. ^ Violences urbaines: 163 véhicules incendiés dans la nuit
  9. ^ France extends laws to curb riots
  10. ^ a b Behind the Furor, the Last Moments of Two Youths
  11. ^ Muhittin Altun
  12. ^ Paris gripped by serious new riots
  13. ^ Riots Continue in Paris Suburbs
  14. ^ L'antiterrorisme, selon le patron des RG
  15. ^ Q&A: French labour law row
  16. ^ 10 Officers Shot as Riots Worsen in French Cities
  17. ^ Ghettos shackle French Muslims
  18. ^ Ghettos shackle French Muslims
  19. ^ Violence exposes France's weaknesses
  20. ^ "First French racism poll released". BBC News. 31 January 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6317799.stm. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ [2]
  23. ^ Crumley, Bruce (6 January 2007). "Racism Unfiltered in France". Time. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1574817,00.html. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  24. ^ [3]
  25. ^ "Report attacks racism in France". BBC News. 17 June 1998. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/114626.stm. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  26. ^ [4]
  27. ^ French Muslims face job discrimination
  28. ^ Clichy's 'les miserables'
  29. ^ France PM: Curfews to stem riots
  30. ^ "La boîte de Pandore de Sarkozy". L'Humanité. 3 November 2005. http://www.humanite.fr/journal/2005-11-03/2005-11-03-817234. 
  31. ^ Football heroes blame social injustice
  32. ^ "Comprendre avant de juger : à propos des émeutes urbaines en France (by anthropologist Alain Morice)". Samizdat. 31 December 2005. http://infos.samizdat.net/article385.html#nb1. 
  33. ^ Die Banlieues kommen nicht zur Ruhe
  34. ^ French TV boss admits censoring riot coverage
  35. ^ Must-see French TV
  36. ^ Les principales réponses de Jacques Chirac
  37. ^ De Villepin interview: Full text
  38. ^ French Rap Musicians Blamed for Violence : NPR


  1. ^ Article from Le Monde
  2. ^ "Scotsman" on renewal of state of emergency
  3. ^ Indymedia on renewal of state of emergency, #torched cars
  4. ^ "Each night between 40 and 60 cars are torched" according to the Council of State in "Le Canard enchaîné #4442, 14 December 2005.
  5. ^ Renewal of state of emergency (article from Le Monde)


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