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DRUGS

French police bust major Marseille drug ring

French police said Friday that they had smashed a major drug trafficking ring in the southern city of Marseille, a key hub in the trans-Mediterranean cannabis and cocaine trade where several people are killed each year in turf wars.

French police bust major Marseille drug ring
General view taken of the Cite de la Castellane housing project where the drug trafficking ring was based. Photo: AFP
Eight people were taken into custody following Monday's raid in the notorious Castellane housing estate, the nexus of the city's drug trade, regional police chief Eric Arella said at a press conference.
   
Around 250 officers took part in the operation, which netted 200 kilogrammes of cannabis resin and nine weapons, including two AK-47 assault rifles, as well as a grenade, two bullet-proof vests and 30,000 euros in cash.
   
Around 20 people accused of having various roles in the drugs business, from lookouts to “nannies” (a person in charge of hiding drugs) to a ringleader, were arrested.
   
Eight were charged with drug smuggling, criminal conspiracy and weapons offences and placed in preventive custody, Marseille's public prosecutor 
Xavier Tarabeux said.
 
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Arella said around 900 drug deals worth 40,000 to 50,000 euros ($46,000-$58,000) take place daily in Castellane, an estate of tower blocks home to 7,000 people famous for producing football legend Zinedine Zidane.
   
One of the eight suspects is a syndicate leader, Arella added.
   
Two are fugitives from justice who had been sentenced to jail time for drug smuggling late last year, Tarabeux added.
 
'See you soon'
 
During the raid police took a picture of a hut where deals were conducted and where marijuana prices were listed on a sign, with the message “Enjoy smoking up and see you soon!”
 
The arrests come two weeks after a young man was gunned down on a Saturday night in Marseille's scenic Old Port, the latest victim of the city's drug 
wars which have been blamed for 12 deadly shootings so far this year, nearly as much as in all of 2017.
   
In a sign of the brazenness of the city's gangs, a group of around 10 gunmen travelling by car besieged a rundown housing estate in the city's north on a recent weekday afternoon.
   
The attackers, who wore balaclavas, fired into the air with AK-47s next to a social centre and then aimed at police while making their getaway.
 
A video of the incident, which a resident caught on camera, went viral on social media, prompting an outcry over the sense of lawlessness and absence of the state in Marseille.
   
On a visit to the city the following day President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern over the violence and pledged to come up with a national plan to combat drug trafficking by July.

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WEATHER

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.

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