Only the figures for the night of July 13-14 were published: "Some 500 vehicles" were burned, the worst ever recorded for the eve of the national holiday. Despite repeated requests to the Interior Ministry, and the DGPN [similar to the FBI], no figures were forthcoming for the night of July 14-15. These orders have been strictly applied. The different prefectures contacted by Le Monde refused to respond, citing "ministerial instructions." Regional news media reported the same problem. The daily La Provence issued an unofficial report that was much less favorable than 2008: 41 cars and a day-care center in Marseilles burned.
Other local papers describe the same problems. In Reims, the daily L'Union denounces the attitude of the authorities: "Yesterday morning, every journalist who came, even for the smallest piece of news, to the firemen, or gendarmes or police, heard the same answer: 'No fires'. In fact, the truth is quite different. Some of those we questioned admitted under their breath: 'We cannot say anything about the fires. We have received orders." In Lyons, the daily Le ProgrÃ¨s reports the same blackout: "Orders not to speak on the radio were given to firemen, gendarmes and police."
In previous years the radio network Europe 1 had systematically called the prefectures to verify the official counts. On January 1, 2008, the DGPN reported 372 burnt cars for New Year's Eve vs 746 reported by Europe 1. Finally the ministry of the interior admitted that there had been 878 fires. "Instructions" given to the prefectures henceforth forbid this type of verification.
Some bits of news have leaked through. An article at the conservative blog FranÃ§ois Desouche (based on a report in the newspaper Le Parisien) describes the use of firecrackers against the police, in the suburb of Tremblay-en-France, department of Seine-Saint-Denis. This was the second time in a few weeks that police on patrol were drawn to a group of youths. Masked by their clothing they threw firecrackers and rocks at the police.
Also, in the city of Evry, four or five large packs of firecrackers were stolen by a group of hooded individuals who broke into the fair grounds thanks to the inadequate number of guards. AgnÃ¨s Moutet-Lamy, the spokesman for the Socialist mayor made light of the event: "That can always happen. There's nothing to worry about." However, Jean-Charles BÃ©raud, an expert in pyrotechnics, stated that firecrackers "can become a monstrously dangerous weapon. A mortar can be propelled 120 meters and create an explosion 80 meters in diameter. It can kill someone. Even one large firecracker can rip apart a hand."
Two helicopters pouring water on the fire, and a fierce battle waged by the marine firemen, were needed to bring the fire under control. A day-care center was partially burned. A row of cypress trees bordering a nursery school went up in smoke. One individual was arrested as he threw rockets on the marine firemen who had come to put out a trash can fire. Fires were set in the four corners of one neighborhood, while trash cans and cars burned in others, notably with the help of Molotov cocktails. While the firemen went on one call after the other, the police fell into what appears to be an ambush. Bullets were fired at them and diverse projectiles were thrown in their direction. One policeman was slightly injured by a rock. The anti-crime brigade arrested one individual in possession of a 22-caliber rifle.
Originally appeared in The Brussels Journal