Photos of burning buildings, videos of running mobs and eyewitness accounts from French correspondents based in the capital have led bulletins, newspapers and websites for days.
“The Disunited Kingdom” was the headline on Libération’s front page on Wednesday morning. “Cameron’s ordeal of fire” said La Tribune, adding “unemployment, austerity, deprived areas” as an explanation. “England in flames” said Le Monde.
As calm seemed to return to the streets of London overnight, coverage shifted to the other towns where violence has broken out, including Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
Commentators have also been looking for reasons for the sudden lawlessness that took hold of London over the weekend.
“The violence involves deprived groups who feel harassed by the police and victims of racism while feeling outside the political mainstream,” said Didier Lapeyronnie, a professor of sociology at the Sorbonne university in Paris.
Much of the coverage has linked the causes of the riots to those that France has experienced over recent years, particularly in 2005 and 2007 when riots broke out across the country for several weeks.
“The riots in London are a serious alarm call for the UK,” said Libération in its editorial on Wednesday. “But also for all mixed and unequal western societies. The similarity to the violent demonstrations in France in 2007 is clear.”
Others have wondered whether the riots in England could provoke copycat scenes in France. “London today, Paris tomorrow?” asks L’Express.
In a video editorial, the magazine’s editor, Christophe Barbier, asks “who can be sure that the London riots won’t arrive in France, particularly in the suburbs around Paris where reforms haven’t been successful…we have the same type of youths who are poorly integrated, unemployed and victims of the economic crisis.”
Some French newspapers cannot be forgiven for wondering, perhaps with some schadenfreude, about the forthcoming Olympic Games which will be taking place in London this time next year. Paris lost out to London in the nailbiting vote in July 2005.
“One year from the Olympic Games: English sport in fear of rioters,” said Le Parisien today.
The newspaper quoted a message on Twitter from English marathon runner, Paula Radcliffe, saying “in less than one year we welcome the world to London, and right now the world doesn’t want to come.”