France's unwelcome annual tradition

Hundreds of empty, parked cars go up in flames in France each New Year’s Eve, set on fire by young revellers, a much lamented tradition that remained intact this year with 1193 vehicles burned, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said.

His announcement was the first time in three years that such figures have been released. The conservative government of former president Nicolas Sarkozy had decided to stop publishing them in a bid to reduce the crime.

France’s current Socialist government decided otherwise, deeming total transparency the best policy, and the rate of burned cars apparently remained steady.

On December 31, 2009, the last public figure available, 1147 vehicles were burned.

The practice reportedly began in earnest among youths – often in poor neighbourhoods – in the 1990s in the region around Strasbourg in eastern France.

It also became a form of protest during the  unrest by youths from housing projects that swept France in the northern autumn of 2005.

At the time, police counted 8810 vehicles burned in less than three weeks.

Yet even then, cars were not burned in big cities like Paris and that remained the case this New Year’s Eve.

Mr Valls said the Paris suburban region of Seine-Saint-Denis, where the 2005 unrest started, led the nation for torched cars, followed by two eastern regions around Strasbourg.

Bruno Beschizza, the national secretary for security matters in Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party, said on iTele TV that publishing the numbers motivated youths to commit such crimes.

‘‘We know that neighbourhoods compete,’’ he said.

Gang rivalries centre on who can torch the most cars, with claims made on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, he said.

AP

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