Dozens arrested in French clashes over alleged police rape
Around 2,000 people demonstrated Saturday outside a courthouse to demand justice for Theo, a 22-year-old youth worker who required surgery after his arrest last week in the gritty suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois.
The protest in the northern suburb of Bobigny near Aulnay-sous-Bois was peaceful at the start but groups of demonstrators later clashed with police and went on the rampage, attacking cars, shops and public property.
Several vehicles were torched and bus shelters and shopfronts smashed in Bobigny and neighbouring areas.
A little girl trapped in a burning car was rescued by a 16-year-old demonstrator, who was heralded as a hero on social media. The police accused "several hundred" individuals of various "acts of violence and damage."
The rioting capped a week of nightly clashes in the northern Paris suburb over the treatment of Theo, who claims a police officer sodomised him with his baton after a stop-and-search check in a housing estate.
Around 50 people have been detained since the protests began. One officer has been charged with rape over the affair, and three others with assault. All four have been suspended from their duties.
Theo's case has revived long-simmering frustrations over policing in immigrant communities, where young men accuse the police of repeatedly targeting them in aggressive stop-and-search operations and using excessive force during arrests.
The police for their part complain of being drawn into a cat-and-mouse game with delinquents and drug dealers operating out of housing estates.
In 2005, the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted while hiding from police in an electricity substation sparked weeks of riots in France. Some of the demonstrators in Bobigny on Saturday carried placards reading "Police rape" and "Police kill innocent people".
Small rallies took place in other French cities, including Rouen in the north, Nantes in the west and Toulouse in the south-west. Theo is still in hospital where he was operated for severe injuries to the anus and rectal area. He was declared unfit to work for two months.
An internal police investigation found insufficient evidence to support allegations that he was raped and said the injuries were not inflicted intentionally. The criminal probe is, however, ongoing.