Today Marseilles is quiet, but tense. The tension follows the killing of a French bus?
Today Marseilles is quiet, but tense. The tension follows the killing of a French bus driver/conductor by an allegedly deranged Algerian.
It was last Saturday (25 August) that 35-year-old Salah Bougrine, apparently without provocation, stabbed Emile Gerlache a 49-year-old bus driver. Gerlache died before he reached hospital and the enraged passengers on the bus tried to lynch Bourgrine. He now lies unconscious in hospital, after being hit repeatedly with an iron bar.
Following the stabbing, racial tension -- long-building up in a city which has been the traditional entry point for immigrants to France -- suddenly exploded. In the past week five Algerians have been killed in France.
The day after the murder a "Committee for the Defence of the People of Marseilles" was established. It placed signs throughout the city reading, "Stop the Arab aggressors" and "Tomorrow, let us demand the punishment of the criminals." Tension in the city mounted, but police banned the anti-immigration demonstration called by the committee.
There are one million North Africans living in France, of whom approximately 70,000 live in and around Marseilles. The Arabs' living conditions are generally worse than the French and they do the less attractive jobs for less money. Officially their contribution to the economy is considered indispensable, but this does not stop their presence from stirring up racial feelings, which overflowed in Marseilles this week.
SYNOPSIS: The port of Marseilles in the south of France -- today it stands quiet. But this week it has been the centre of racial violence between native French and immigrants from North Africa.
It was last Saturday that Salah Bougrine, a 35-year-old Algerian immigrant, apparently without provocation, stabbed to death Emile Gerlache, a 49-year-old driver/conductor on a Marseilles bus.
Gerlache's funeral was attended by thousands of mourners including many of his fellow transport workers.
Marseilles has always been a major point of entry into France for North African immigrants. Of the estimated one million Arabs living in France over 70,000 live in and around Marseilles.
North Africans come to France because they need the work. Frequently, married men come along and support their families by sending back weekly cheques. The North Africans do those jobs the Frenchmen choose to avoid, and almost inevitably these are unpleasant and poorly paid.
The intensity of the feelings that have erupted in Marseilles are unusual. Five North Africans have been murdered since the stabbing. For the moment Marseilles is tranquil but the tension between the communities goes on.