France vows response to Marseille shootings

The French government rejected calls on Thursday for the army to be sent in to crack down on drug dealers in Marseille, but promised a tough response to a wave of deadly shootings.

The gritty Mediterranean port city, long known as a hotbed of crime, has been struck by a wave of murders with assault rifles in turf wars over the
lucrative illegal drug trade.

The latest on Wednesday night saw Walid Marzouki, a 25-year-old suspected trafficker, riddled with bullets in a car, bringing to 14 the number of people killed in drug-related shootings in the city this year.

The violence prompted a local official to appeal for the army to be sent in to control drug-affected neighbourhoods, but the call was rejected quickly by senior officials including President Francois Hollande.

"It is not the army's place to control neighbourhoods," Hollande told journalists during a trip to Madrid.

"This is the work of the police, who must be strengthened in Marseille in order to eradicate this violence, crime and trafficking."

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's office said he would chair a meeting with senior ministers, including the interior, justice and finance ministers,
next Thursday to tackle Marseille's problems.

"This situation must not continue," Ayrault told journalists, saying the meeting will "show the government's determination" to tackle the violence.

Samia Ghali, a senator and district mayor who represents two high-risk neighbourhoods in Marseille, had earlier called on the government to resort to military force to control the situation.

"It no longer makes any difference to send in a police car to stop the dealers. When 10 of them are arrested, 10 others take up the torch. It's like
fighting an anthill," she said.

"Faced with the weapons of war being used by these networks, only the army can intervene," she told local newspaper La Provence, adding that troops should set up barricades around neighbourhoods known as trafficking hubs.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said there was no question of calling in the military but vowed police would take tough measures.

"It is out of the question for the army to respond to these tragedies and crimes. There is no internal enemy," Valls told journalists.

But he promised a "comprehensive, in-depth and particularly strong" response to the shootings.

Wednesday's death was the second in less than a week, after that on Saturday of another 25-year-old man, Benamar Hamidi, who was shot shortly after being released from prison.

Prosecutor Jacques Dallest said it was the 19th such death in the Marseille region so far this year and the 14th in the city, compared with 16 and 12
respectively in the whole of 2011.

Marseille has suffered from years of deadly gun violence linked with organised crime and the proliferation of illegal weapons, especially Soviet-designed AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

Police have complained of lacking resources to fight drug gangs and David-Olivier Reverdy, a spokesman for the Marseille branch of the Alliance
police union, said talk of calling in the military didn't help.

"France is not at war," he said. "Better to give us the means to fight against underground traffickers."

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IN PICTURES: How floods and a bin strike left Marseille submerged in waste

Torrential rain hit the city of Marseille in the south of France on Sunday and Monday, just days after local waste collectors ended a week-long strike, leading to fears of "catastrophic" waste making its way to the ocean.

IN PICTURES: How floods and a bin strike left Marseille submerged in waste
A man stands on a beach covered with cans following heavy rains and a strike of waste collectors in Marseille on October 5th. Photo: Nicolas TUCAT / AFP.

Marseille is located in the Bouches-du-Rhône département, which Météo France placed on red alert for heavy rain and flooding on Monday. Schools in the area shut and people were warned not to leave their homes as two months’ worth of rain fell in a single day in the Mediterranean city, after heavy rains had already caused flooding on Sunday night.

The situation was compounded by the fact that uncollected garbage was blocking storm drains in certain parts of the city – drains which would normally be cleared ahead of heavy rain – and making it more difficult for emergency services to intervene.

The city’s waste collectors had begun clearing the streets on Saturday after an agreement between unions and local authorities put an end to an eight-day strike over an increase to working hours.

But rain over the weekend made the monumental job even more difficult, and the result was that “rivers of rubbish” flowed through the city’s streets on Monday.

“Rubbish is everywhere. It’s a catastrophe,” biologist Isabelle Poitou, director of the MerTerre association, told AFP. “We’re expecting a strong mistral wind which will push the rubbish, which is currently making its way towards the sea, onto the beaches.”

“It’s vital to come and clear the rubbish from the beaches on Tuesday or Wednesday,” she added. “We need to act before the rubbish gets scattered in the sea at the first gust of wind.”

A woman collects waste on a beach after heavy rains and following a strike of waste collectors in Marseille.

A woman collects waste on a beach after heavy rains and following a strike of waste collectors in Marseille. Photo: Christophe SIMON / AFP.

The video below tweeted by BFMTV journalist Cédric Faiche shows the state of a beach in Marseille early on Tuesday morning. “It’s been cleaned several times but cans and different types of plastic continue to arrive…” Faiche wrote.

However, Faiche told BFM there are similar scenes every time there is heavy rain in Marseille, even if the strike has made the situation even worse.

Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin shared a video of the “sad scene” captured in Marseille on Sunday night. “Discussions between trade unions and the city must not make us forget what really matters: we are all responsible for our seas and our oceans!” she said.

“It’s unacceptable,” Christine Juste, deputy mayor in charge of the environment in Marseille told BFM on Tuesday, criticising the “lack of reactivity” in collecting leftover rubbish following the end of the strike on Friday.

“Why wait so long? In the 6th arrondissement, there has been no collection since the announcement that the strike was over,” she said.

IN PICTURES: See how the deluge has left parts of France’s Mediterranean coast submerged

The Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis intercommunal structure, rather than city hall, is in charge of rubbish collection in Marseille.

On Monday morning, the Metropolis dispatched 650 workers to clear away as much waste as possible ahead of the heaviest rainfall which was forecast for the afternoon.

On Monday evening, Marseille’s Mayor Benoît Payan told franceinfo that 3,000 tonnes of garbage were still yet to be collected in the city. “I asked the Prime Minister this evening to class the zone as a natural disaster,” he added.