Police came under fire in French city of Marseille housing estate

February 10, 2015 6:59 am

Police said they came under fire as they rushed into a housing estate
in the French city of Marseille after residents alerted them that
hooded people had shot “Kalashnikovs” in the air.
The outbreak of
violence in La Castellane, an estate known as a drug trafficking
hotspot, came just hours before Prime Minister Manuel Valls visited the
southern port city to hail the progress made in fighting .
It
was not clear what sparked the violence at a time of high jitters
following the Paris attacks last month, but Marseille is known for
rampant gang-related gun crime that has even prompted calls for the army
to be sent in to tough neighbourhoods.

French police officers take up positions during an operation at a
housing estate in the French city of Marseille where residents said
“Kalashnikov shots” were fired in the air. Photo / Boris Horvat

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters that police recovered seven Kalashnikovs and “several” kilogrammes of drugs.
In
a speech to security forces on his visit, Valls said the shots, which
left no one hurt, were “unacceptable” and said the push to reduce crime
was a “long-term struggle.”

According to a source close to the case, residents in the
housing estate – where a 25-year-old was shot dead last month in a
settling of scores – alerted police earlier that “five to ten” hooded
people had fired “Kalashnikovs” in the air.
Police rushed to the
scene to deal with the situation, and on their arrival, they were shot
at while still in their cars, said local public security director
Pierre-Marie Bourniquel.
Children at a creche in the 7,000-strong
estate, where football star Zinedine Zidane famously grew up, were
moved to a neighbouring school.
Security forces were still
hunting for those who fired the Kalashnikovs, and riot police will
deploy in the estate over the next few days, Bourniquel said.
Easy availability of Kalashnikovs
Police
say much of the violence in Marseille is linked to turf wars between
multiple rival gangs battling for control of the drugs trade in the
city’s poorest neighbourhoods.
The violence, they say, is made
worse by the easy availability of high-calibre weapons, with Kalashnikov
automatic rifles being the murder instrument of choice.
In 2013, Valls, who was then interior minister, had warned that entire neighbourhoods were “lost to the dealers.”
Ironically,
he visited the city Monday to pay tribute to the “excellent” results of
measures taken over more than two years to fight crime.
In an
interview with regional daily La Provence, Valls said crime in the city
had tumbled, pointing to a 30-per cent drop in armed robberies over two
years and a 20-per cent fall in physical violence against people.
Marseille has been a Mediterranean trading hub since antiquity and has long had a reputation as a hotbed of crime.
In
the 19th century, the level of registered offences was three times
higher there than in any other French city and there have been regular
outbursts of gang violence ever since.
Drugs-related crime is
also not new, with the city’s central role in the international heroin
trade famously portrayed in the 1971 film “The French Connection”.
That
trade was controlled by powerful international syndicates and the
heroin passing through Marseille was largely destined for other markets.
In
contrast, the current violence is seen as the product of a free-for-all
in the supply of marijuana and related soft drugs to the local market.

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