Ministers mobilise as Marseille violence spirals

Five government ministers headed to the crime plagued city of Marseille on Monday, pledging action and reinforcements to tackle the rampant gun violence that claimed yet another victim this week.

Ministers mobilise as Marseille violence spirals
Five ministers head to Marseille: From left to right Manuel Valls, PM Jean-Marc Ayrault, Christiane Taubira, Marisol Touraine, Cecile Duflot. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

French authorities vowed action to fight rampant violent crime in the southern port of Marseille on Tuesday after the latest in a string of deadly gang shootings in France's second-largest city.

Accompanied by five ministers, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault rushed to Marseille after news of Monday's killing, which saw a 25-year-old suspected drug dealer riddled with bullets in the seaside neighbourhood of l'Estaque.

"The government has committed with determination to reducing the violence, delinquency and crime in Marseille," Ayrault said after visiting a hospital where a nurse was wounded in a knife attack on Sunday.

Violent gun crime is nothing new in Marseille and neither is the sight of government ministers visiting the city promising reinforcements and vowing to deal with the problem once and for all.

On Tuesday it was the turn of Interior Minister Manuel Valls to pledge added support for the police fight a wave of gun and drug crime in the city.

Valls promised an extra company of CRS riot police would be sent to Marseille as well as 24 specialist investigators. 

Monday's killing was the 13th gang-related murder this year in Marseille and followed two other brutal attacks this month.

On August 9, a 22-year-old student had his throat cut in the city centre and on Sunday an 18-year-old was stabbed to death near Marseille's famed Old Port after a bar fight.

One of the suspects in the stabbing later wounded the nurse with a knife after being asked for identity papers while seeking treatment at a hospital following the fight.

Marseille has been plagued in recent years by a wave of shootings, often with Kalashnikov assault rifles, connected with the drug trade.

The violence has reached such levels that a local official last year called for the military to be sent in and the government formed a task force to tackle the crime wave.

Some of the worse neighoburhoods in the city were turned into priority zones, which received extra resources. Some local politicians said it was not enough and the whole city needed to be made into one big priority area for the government.

Critics accuse the government of ignoring the city's underlying problems of poverty, unemployment and the marginalisation of ethnic minorities.

Once again this week local and national politicians from opposing parties blamed each other for the city's decay.

The outspoken Valls pointed the finger at Marseille's UMP mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin for not giving the local police the means to tackle crime.

Gaudin, who earlier this year slammed the government for investing in Paris at the expense of Marseille, hit back insisting it was the job of the government in Paris to protect the people of Marseille.

Despite the regeneration of its port and the boost it has received from being named as the 2013 European City of Culture, Marseille remains a poor city with fewer than half of households paying income tax.

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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.