FRENCH YOUTHS HONOUR A NEW YEAR'S EVE TRADITION BY TORCHING 333 CARS
JOHN LICHFIELD IN PARIS French firefighters extinguish a burning car during New Year's Eve celebrations in Strasbourg. Torching cars has become an unofficial tradition Jean-Marc Loos/Reuters
A HUGE mobilisation by police failed to prevent the annual outbreak of car burning by disaffected youths in poor French suburbs on New Year's Eve. Vandals destroyed 333 cars early on Saturday, including 190 in Paris suburbs alone.
In one, the Beaudottes estate to the north of Paris, youths found the master power switch and plunged the district into darkness. When police moved in, they were bombarded from the roof-tops with stones and chunks of concrete.
The 15-year-old tradition of setting fire to cars, dustbins and bus shelters on New Year's Eve has become an unofficial barometer of disaffection among multi-racial gangs. The worst year was 2001, when 388 cars were burned.
Michel Wieviorka, a sociologist who has studied the violence, believes that the arson is a protest against the conspicuous consumption in wealthier areas over the holidays.
Youth workers suggest that it is a copy-cat game - originally imported from the US - in which gangs try to outdo each other.
The victims are almost exclusively other poor residents of the inner suburbs, who have no choice but to park their cars on the streets.