Death of 2 French teenagers sparks chaos reminiscent of 2005 riots

.VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France (AP) – Rampaging youths threw Molotov cocktails and torched dozens of cars in troubled neighborhoods outside Paris in a second night of street violence Monday after two teenagers on a motorbike were killed in a crash with a police car.

Anger focused on police, with residents claiming that officers left the scene of Sunday’s crash without helping the boys – a claim officials cast doubt on but which the police were investigating.

President Nicolas Sarkozy appealed for calm, while police braced for more problems. With several dozen officers injured and two police stations attacked during two nights of rioting, the violence was a reminder of the tensions that drove weeks of unrest in 2005 in poor neighborhoods with large minority populations.

Investigators were still trying to piece together what happened in the Sunday afternoon crash in Villiers-le-Bel, a town of public housing blocks that is home to a mix of Arab, black and white residents in the French capital’s northern suburbs.

Police officials said the teenagers ignored traffic rules and crashed into the police vehicle, and that the motorbike they were riding was unregistered and thus not authorized for use on French roads. Neither of the boys – ages 15 and 16 – were wearing a helmet as required by law, and the prosecutor’s office said the bike was going at maximum speed.

The internal police oversight agency opened an inquiry to probe whether the officers failed to help the teenagers and whether manslaughter charges should be filed, a police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

An alcohol test showed that neither of the two officers had been drinking, and initial inquiries suggested they did not appear to have caused the crash, police said. The prosecutor, Marie-Therese de Givry, told LCI television the officers called rescue services to the scene.

Villiers-le-Bel was on edge Monday for a second night, though the families of the two teenagers called for calm. A crowd of youths set police barricades on fire and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at officers, who retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets. In Villiers-le-Bel and surrounding areas, youths set fire to 36 vehicles, the area’s prefecture said.

Youths were seen firing buckshot at police and reporters. The prefecture said many police had injuries; a police union official said 38 officers were wounded, including three seriously. One reporter also was injured. Two youths were taken into custody, the prefecture said.