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CRIME

Paris mayor bans crack addicts from park after protests from local families

Crack and other drug users who had been allowed to spend days and nights in a park in northeastern Paris, causing an uproar among local residents, have been blocked from the site by Paris authorites.

Paris mayor bans crack addicts from park after protests from local families
Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who visited the Jardins d’Eole on Wednesday, pledged they would be rehoused elsewhere as they hung about outside the park, barred from entering by security agents.

The park is near the Stalingrad metro stop, where crack use has wreaked havoc for decades and bedevilled a succession of mayors trying to clean up one of the poorer corners of the capital.

Authorities decided to turn the Jardins d’Eole site over to addicts in May, allowing them to spend the night there instead of on the streets.

But this drew outrage among local residents who feared the park risked becoming a no-go zone rife with crime.

Locals protest over the park plans and the general crack-related issues in the Stalingrad areas. Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP

In recent weeks, some fed-up neighbours took to launching powerful fireworks at groups of drug users, in scenes that spread on social media.

Visiting the park with local officials, Hidalgo, a Socialist who is weighing a bid for the presidency next year, said she had suggested a number of potential treatment sites to the French state, which usually oversees health and security policies.

“If these proposals are not accepted then we will assume our responsibilities and open sites complete with doctors, psychiatrists, nurses and aid groups,” she said.

Family activities will also resume in the Eole gardens, she said, including an urban farm with goats.

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CRIME

French court jails for life sole surviving Paris 2015 attacker

The sole surviving member of an Islamic State terror cell that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015 was handed a whole-life sentence on Wednesday at the end of a trial that aimed to draw a line under the worst peace-time atrocity in modern French history.

French court jails for life sole surviving Paris 2015 attacker

Salah Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan origin, was captured alive by police four months after the bloodbath at the Bataclan concert hall and other locations.

His sentence, the toughest possible, was read out by the head of five-judge panel overseeing the trial of 20 men accused of involvement in the assault on the capital.

Wearing a khaki-coloured polo shirt, he stood motionless and showed no emotion as he was declared guilty and sentenced by chief judge Louis Peries during an hour-long speech.

“The sentences are quite heavy,” one tearful survivor, Sophie, told AFP as she left the court in central Paris. “I feel a lot of relief. Ten months of hearings — it’s helped us to rebuild.”

The trial has been the biggest in modern French history, the culmination of a six-year international investigation whose findings run to more than a million pages.

READ MORE: The difficult and emotional search for truth at France’s biggest terrorism trial

The other 19 suspects, accused of either plotting or offering logistical support, were also found guilty, with their sentences ranging from two years to life in prison.

All of the attackers except for Abdeslam blew themselves up or were killed by police during or after the assault.

Hundreds of victims and witnesses packed out the benches of the specially constructed courtroom as the sentences were read out.

“My first reaction is that we have the feeling of turning a page after the verdicts,” Gerard Chemla, a lawyer representing victims at the trial, told reporters.

Change of heart?

Abdeslam had begun his appearances last September by defiantly declaring himself as an “Islamic State fighter” but finished tearfully apologising to victims and asking for leniency.

In his final statement, he urged the judges not to give him a full-life term, seeking to emphasise that he had not killed anyone himself.

“I made mistakes, it’s true. But I’m not a murderer, I’m not a killer,” he said.

His lawyers had also argued against the whole-life sentence, which prosecutors had demanded.

It offers only a small chance of parole after 30 years and has been pronounced only four times previously since being created in 1994.

Abdeslam, a one-time pot-smoking lover of parties, discarded his suicide belt on the night of the attack and fled back to his hometown, Brussels, where many of the extremists lived.

He told the court that he had had a change of heart and decided not to kill people.

“I changed my mind out of humanity, not out of fear,” he insisted.

But after hearing that his suicide belt was defective, the judges concluded that this “cast serious doubt” on his apparent “renunciation”.

They ruled he was a “co-author” of the attacks which “constituted a single crime scene.” 

Trauma

A team of 10 jihadists laid siege to the French capital, attacking the national sports stadium, bars, and the Bataclan in an assault immediately claimed from Syria by the IS group.

The attacks shocked France, with the choice of targets and the manner of the violence seemingly designed to inflict maximum fear, just 10 months after a separate assault on the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

In one instance, the court heard a recording of gunmen taunting people trapped in the Bataclan as they fired on them with Kalashnikov machine guns from a balcony above.

The huge loss of life marked the start of a gruesome and violent period in Europe as IS ramped up attacks across the continent.

France, under then president Francois Hollande, declared the country “at war” with the extremists and their self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Hollande, who testified in November, called the trial “exceptional” and “exemplary”, adding in a statement that the accused had been “judged with respect for the law”.

The 10-month process had “enabled us to look for the truth in order to better understand the course of Islamist terrorism”, he said.

Other culprits

In the absence of the rest of the attackers, the men on trial besides Abdeslam were suspected of offering mostly logistical support or plotting other attacks. 

Only 14 out of the 20 appeared in person, with the rest missing, presumed dead.

One of them, Mohamed Abrini, admitted to driving some of the Paris attackers to the capital and explained how he was meant to take part but backed out.

The court handed him a life sentence with 22 years as a minimum term.

Also on trial was Swedish citizen Osama Krayem, who has been identified in a notorious IS video showing a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.

He was sentenced to 30 years in jail and ordered to serve two thirds of it behind bars, as was fellow jihadist Sofian Ayari, a Tunisian arrested along with Abdeslam in Brussels in March 2015.

The pair were suspected of planning an attack on Amsterdam airport.

All of the convicted are able to appeal their verdicts and sentences.

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