The New Year’s Eve tradition of burning cars in certain run-down areas of French towns and cities is alive and well, with the country’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls reporting that over 1,000 vehicles were destroyed in the annual orgy of vandalism this year.
Valls has published figures for the number of cars burned on New Year’s Eve for the last two years as part of his attempts to show “total transparency on levels of delinquency and crime” in the country.
Although 1,067 vehicles were set ablaze, Valls, who mobilized 53,000 police to keep order across the country on New Year's Eve, was pleased to announce that the figure represented a drop on last year’s total of 1,193.
He acknowledged, however, that that total – recorded between 6pm New Year's Eve and 5pm the following day – was still unacceptably high.
The area that saw the most cars go up in smoke was the deprived department of Seine-Saint-Denis to the north of Paris, where 80 vehicles were destroyed overnight.
Authorities had stopped publishing official figures of the number of burnt cars after it was discovered that a district-by-district breakdown was fuelling destructive competition between rival gangs.
All in all, Valls said it was a “positive result”. Whether the owners of the hundreds of torched cars will agree, is a different matter.
The custom of setting vehicles alight on New Year’s Eve reportedly began in the east of the country, around Strasbourg, in the 1990s, in the the city’s poorer neighbourhoods.
It was then quickly adopted by youths in cities across the country.
Neither is it just a New Year’s tradition, with cars often set ablaze whenever there is an outbreak of social disorder, as seen in the 2005 riots when hundreds of vehicles were torched.
The celebrations to mark Saint-Sylvestre, as New Year’s Eve is known in France, were also marred by three stabbings, one which took place on the Trocadéro, near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
A 31-year-old was also killed in Grenoble and a 45-year-old man was knifed to death in Dannemarie, southern Alsace.
“No effort will be spared to make sure the perpetrators of these cowardly and heinous crimes are found and brought to justice,” said Valls on Wednesday.
The village of Rians in the Var department of southern France was also hit by tragedy when three youths died after a party. Their deaths are believed to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning at the house where they were sleeping.
On the roads, where Valls had mobilized 16,000 police officers to crack down on drink driving, there were three fatalities and 129 people were injured.
In all there were 322 arrests made, which Valls put down to the "reactivity of the police".