Amiens riots thrust 'left-wing Sarkozy' into spotlight
Although an uneasy calm has settled over France’s northern city of Amiens after rioting erupted there earlier this week, the violence has thrust the country’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls into the spotlight as he deals with the first major incident of civil unrest since French President François Hollande’s Socialist government came into power three months ago.
The riots in Amiens’ northern neighbourhoods left an extensive trail of damage. A number of buildings, including a nursery school, were left in ruins, and the charred remains of burnt-out cars littered the streets. Rioters also clashed with police forces, pelting them with objects and even firing shotgun pellets. Seventeen police officers were injured in the fray, one of whom was said to be in critical condition.
Tensions had scarcely eased by the time Valls arrived in Amiens the next day to take stock of the situation. The interior minister was swarmed by an angry crowd of around a hundred people as he tried to enter city hall. Valls later spoke out against the riots, saying "there is no excuse for shooting at the police, for shooting at law enforcement officers or burning public property… Republican law, order and justice must all find a place again here, in Amiens.”
Order has since been restored to Amiens, and Valls announced on Wednesday that police sent as reinforcements will stay in the city for the coming days to "guarantee a complete return to normality”. Yet in the wake of the riots, the country’s conservative UMP party did not hesitate to criticise the Socialist government’s approach to law and order, an issue it has long played up as one of the political left’s major weaknesses.
"Sadly, one should not be surprised to see such violence”, said UMP party leader Jean François Copé, accusing the government of having sent "lax messages” on the issue of security, a comment that was soon echoed by a number of other figures from within the UMP.
'Sarkozy of the left'
Stock arguments on how the left is soft on crime, however, may be difficult to pin to Valls, whose political style doesn’t necessarily fit into a tidy, well-defined box. Although a longtime member of the Socialist Party, some of Valls’ more conservative views have earned him the nickname "the left-wing Sarkozy”.
"Valls’ approach to security leans toward the right”, Frédéric Sawicki, a political science professor at the Sorbonne, told FRANCE 24. "[He] has definitely broken the line on issues such as immigration, or even the economy.” (...)