Fears of violence in France after officers acquitted

A French court has acquitted two police officers accused of contributing to the deaths of two teenagers in a blighted Paris suburb a decade ago that prompted weeks of riots across the country.

The verdict raised fears of a new wave of mistrust, anger and violent protests similar to those seen recently in the US.

The court in Rennes ruled officers Sebastien Gaillemin and Stephanie Klein were not responsible when two teenage boys chased by police entered a power substation to hide and were electrocuted in October 2005. A third boy survived the powerful 20,000-volt electric shock with severe burns.

Neither of the officers had a “clear awareness of grave and imminent danger” as required by French law, said Judge Nicolas Leger.

The deaths of Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna cast a harsh light on the fate of the isolated suburban housing projects, which are populated by France’s poor, many of them with roots in Africa.

Over three weeks of rioting, thousands of vehicles were torched, public buildings were burned and thousands of people were arrested. A state of emergency was declared and a curfew was imposed.

The two police officers had been facing up to five years in prison had they been convicted of failing to assist someone in danger.

Moments after the verdict was read, a young woman shouted: “The police above the law, as always.”


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