PARIS – Some 40 rioters in a Paris suburb hurled Molotov cocktails at police and firefighters, torched cars and one person fired a handgun during a rampage early Monday prompted by the death of a teen pizza deliverer fleeing police.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux called for calm after the overnight violence, signaling fears that unrest by angry suburban youth could spread from Bagnolet, on Paris' eastern edge. Hortefeux announced plans for an internal police investigation with results to be made public.
Police reinforced their presence in Bagnolet, and some 40 vans of riot police were seen outside the housing project where the rioting occurred. No one was injured, authorities said.
Some witnesses claimed that a police car hit the 18-year-old's motorcycle after he tried to flee a document check outside the project. "I saw it with my own eyes .... He didn't stop (and) they hit him," Alexandre Matthias told iTele TV station.
However, Philibert Demory, deputy prosecutor of Bobigny, which handles the region, said that "as it stands so far there is no element to show contact" between the two vehicles. He asked witnesses to come forward.
The teenager lost control of his motorcycle and hit a metal barrier; he then died en route to the hospital, police said.
About 40 young people hurled Molotov cocktails and projectiles at police and emergency workers on the scene, and one person fired a handgun at police, Hortefeux's office said in a statement.
The rioters set fire to 29 cars and smashed windows of a high school and store, the statement said. One person was detained and order was restored after police reinforcements arrived.
Flowers and a note were left at the metal barrier to mark the young man's death.
Hortefeux insisted that "all light will be shed" on the cause of the young man's death with an internal investigation.
"I want it (the results) to be made public as quickly as possible," Hortefeux said Monday evening. The inquiry will be "serious, deep, honest," he promised.
Hortefeux announced a meeting Aug. 31 with the top government officials in charge of urban and youth policies and neighborhood associations to try to "establish a peaceful dialogue" in violence-stricken suburbs.
The scenario — the death of a youth with police directly or indirectly involved — mirrors other incidents that have triggered unrest. Tensions between young people and police have long simmered in housing projects in France's suburbs, feeding on poverty, unemployment and anger over discrimination against minorities.
The suburbs erupted in 2005 in riots, largely by young Arab and black men of immigrant backgrounds, after two teens were electrocuted in a power substation while hiding from police. The riots spread nationwide.
Violence broke out in November 2007 in Villiers-le-Bel, north of Paris, after two teenage boys were killed in a motorbike crash with a police car. Police and local officials said it was an accident, but many residents were unconvinced.