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Sarkozy to announce rejuvenation plan for Paris suburbs

  • Story Highlights
  • Sarkozy expected to announce economic stimulus plan for the Paris suburbs
  • The French president is likely to dedicate more than $1.46 billion
  • The Paris suburbs have been plagued by violent riots twice since 2005
  • It is hoped the plan will prevent such violence by addressing the problems
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to announce a $1.46 billion (€1 billion) plan on Friday designed to revitalize suburbs of Paris plagued by low-income and high-unemployment.

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Cars burn on 27 November 2007 in Villiers-le-Bel, outside Paris, after they were torched by rioters as a reaction to the death of two teenagers.

It is hoped the plan, which was a major platform of Sarkozy's campaign, will prevent scenes of violence witnessed by the capital's outlying suburbs in the past years.

The French president tasked Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara with helping to craft the proposal, which is based on a youth jobs program. She announced the plan a month ago, saying it would help prompt economic, social and cultural growth.

Since 2005, tensions in the suburbs have erupted into violent protests on two separate occasions.

The maladies of the Paris suburbs are all too real for people like Rouzouna Djouma, who refuses to leave her public housing apartment in Sevran by herself after dark. She worries there could be an outbreak of violence at any time.

According to a poll by the French newspaper Le Figaro Wednesday, 94 percent of those questioned share her view -- the suburbs are vulnerable to outbreaks of violence.

Some 42 percent of respondents to the poll said the lack of parental control was the main cause of unrest in those neighborhoods. Thirty seven percent said gangs and drugs were responsible, while 25 percent of those questioned attributed the problem to a lack of jobs for young people.

This view conflicts with that of French politicians, who say the main cause of the problems is high unemployment.

Teenagers in these poorer neighborhoods -- many largely populated by African and Arab immigrants and their French-born children -- have rioted twice in the last 27 months, expressing their frustration with high unemployment and discrimination.

Late last November, French youths clashed with police in the suburbs. These disturbances came to a head after two teenagers on a motorcycle died in a collision with a police car. Watch video of November 2007 unrest Video

Two years earlier a series of protests rocked the suburbs after the death of two young men of North African descent, who were electrocuted hiding from police in an electrical substation. The unrest lasted for over three weeks and prompted the government to declare a state of emergency.

For now, Sevran's deputy mayor Lakdar Femmami says the lid is back on the pressure cooker.

The city of 50,000, only a few miles from Charles de Gaulle Airport, survived November's outburst relatively unscathed, unlike in 2005 when one of the oldest buildings in town was hit by a firebomb.

Femmami said the French government has still not given the city money to rebuild.

But the government has acted in other ways, spending millions to replace aging high-rise public housing towers -- considered by critics to be urban planning catastrophes of the 1950s and 1960s -- with more sociable low-rise public housing.

Sevran's mayor, Stephane Gatignon, doubts the improvements will change the isolation his fellow citizens feel -- so close to Paris, yet kept in a what he calls "a ghetto" by bad public transportation, discrimination, and unequal distribution of taxes.

To add to its problems, Sevran has virtually no industry to boost its tax base.

About 15 miles away, the town of Nanterre is being touted as a shining example of how to revitalize the Paris suburbs.

Like Sevran, more than half the accommodation in Nanterre is low-rent public housing and unemployment is almost as high. Unlike its neighbor, Nanterre draws at least some tax support from a nearby concentration of corporate headquarters on the edge of Paris.

Nanterre's residents may not be rich, but the city has money to provide services for them because it has been able to attract industry.

The success of Nanterre prompted French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to pay a visit to a jobs program started by a private company there.

She reacted fiercely though, when questioned about the complaints of suburban mayors that the French government has done little since the 2005 riots to ease discrimination and improve economic conditions.

"That's not true, a lot of work, a lot of effort, has been put into the suburbs and the situation," she said. "It's not just the state that has to be active. All the partners in the community need to be involved and companies are very very willing to do the effort."

According to the Figaro poll, 88 percent of the 1,023 people questioned believe that young people living in the suburbs should be given more aid, such as job training. Such aid, they believe, should be dependent on whether they live up to certain standards.

Eighty-six percent of those questioned believe a small group of delinquents are responsible for most of the problems in the suburbs and they should be dealt with more harshly by law enforcement.

Lagarde's boss, Sarkozy, raised eyebrows and tempers two years ago when he referred to rioters in Paris as "scum" but has recently taken a more conciliatory tone, while saying he has lost patience with those who always blame social problems for such violence.

Late last year, he promised more efficient law enforcement in the suburbs. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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