French President Francois Hollande called for “justice” Tuesday over the alleged rape of a youth with a police baton, appealing for calm after more than a week of riots.
“Justice must be served,” Hollande said during a visit to the working-class suburb of Aubervilliers, situated in the tough Seine-Saint-Denis region northeast of Paris where Theo, a 22-year-old youth worker, was assaulted while being arrested.
But Hollande also condemned the nightly violence after the February 2 incident in a high-rise housing estate, calling the rioting “unacceptable”.
He said France was determined to “show that we are capable of living together in a peaceful society, but where respect is the rule and where we must be firm towards those who diverge from this principle.”
Theo's treatment by four officers during a stop-and-search operation has sparked clashes with police and arson attacks in a string of impoverished, ethnically-mixed suburbs around the French capital.
Dozens of people have been arrested, including 25 overnight Monday.
Theo was hospitalised with severe anal injuries after one of the officers allegedly sodomised him with a truncheon.
The officer in question has been charged with rape and his three colleagues with assault. All four have been suspended.
'Fuel to the fire'
With presidential elections in April and May, the alleged assault, which follows the death of a young black man in police custody in another Paris suburb last year, has become a campaign issue.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Monday launched a petition “to support the police” after blaming “laxism in French society” for the problems of the restive suburbs.
The head of the anti-immigration National Front party called for a “major tightening of the screws” to boost police capabilities.
The remarks prompted Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon to say she was “adding fuel to the fire.” “She encourages violence through her hateful rhetoric,” Hamon said.
On Monday, Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux made an appeal for “responsibility, calm (and) faith in the justice system.”
Hollande, who visited Theo in hospital last week, decided not to seek re-election.
The leftist Hamon, who won the Socialist nomination, is given little chance of getting past the first round on April 23.
The latest voter surveys show Le Pen with 27 percent support for the first round — more than any other candidate — though she is currently not expected to triumph in the May 7 runoff vote.