Paris backs veil ban, police after 'unacceptable' violence

French riot police stand guard in front of the police station in Trappes, a suburb of Paris, on July 21, 2013. The French government on Monday condemned as "unacceptable" weekend violence in a Paris suburb triggered by the country's ban on full-face
French riot police stand guard in front of the police station in Trappes, a suburb of Paris, on July 21, 2013. The French government on Monday condemned as "unacceptable" weekend violence in a Paris suburb triggered by the country's ban on full-face veils and strongly defended the controversial law. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

TRAPPES, France / Yvelines (AFP) - The French government on Monday condemned as "unacceptable" weekend violence in a Paris suburb triggered by the country's ban on full-face veils and strongly defended the controversial law.

Two senior members of the government, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Interior Minister Manuel Valls, spoke following the violence in the suburb of Trappes.

The unrest erupted after a man was detained for allegedly attacking a police officer who had stopped his wife over her full-face veil - a practice that is banned in France, outraging some in the Muslim community.

Mr Ayrault said the subsequent violence was "unacceptable" and called on everyone to respect the law.

Speaking in Grenoble, Mr Ayrault said: "We are a state of law in a republic and the law must be respected by all.... It is the role of the police and the role of justice to enforce it. Laws cannot simply be enforced by waving a magic wand."

He added that "what had happened in Trappe in the last few days is unacceptable".

Mr Ayrault also called on the rightwing opposition to act "responsibly" and back the government as, he said, the Socialists had in 2005 during another period of suburban rioting.

He said he was "advising those on the right to avoid caricatures and cease polemics".

Mr Valls earlier said there would be no retreat from the law on veils.

"The law banning the full-face veil is a law for women.... It is not for a second a law against Islam," he told RTL radio.

"It is a law against practices that have nothing to do with our traditions and our values, and the police did their work perfectly well." He added that the bout of unrest - the second to hit Paris suburbs in recent months over the same issue - had now been "contained".

The violence kicked off Friday evening, when some 400 people protested near the police station in Trappes, southwest of Paris.

They set fire to bins, destroyed bus stops and hurled stones at police who responded with tear gas. A 14-year-old boy suffered a serious eye injury and several police officers were also hurt.

The unrest continued on Saturday night, albeit to a lesser degree, and by Sunday a tense calm had been restored.

On Monday, an 18-year-old man received a six-month suspended sentence for throwing projectiles at the police, and another, a 21-year-old repeat offender, was sent to jail for 10 months and immediately taken into custody for the same offence.

Their lawyer, Frederic Landon, said the two were being held responsible because "perpetrators (had) to be found so what happened does not go unpunished".

A third underage youth who was also detained will be presented to a juvenile court judge.

More suspects will face trials in September and November.

Prosecutors say the husband of the woman who was stopped on Thursday allegedly attacked and tried to strangle the officer.

But in a statement released Monday, the man's lawyer denied this, saying it was "false" without elaborating.

Mr Wenceslas Ference said his client "wants it to be known that his wife has always accepted to show her face to police and cooperate during previous ID checks, of which there have been many".

The man, identified only as Mickael, was released from custody on Saturday and is due to appear before a court in September.

France has banned women from wearing full-face veils in public since April 2011, and authorities say about 300 women were caught breaking the law in the first year it was in force.

Violations are punishable by a fine of up to 150 euros (S$250) or mandatory citizenship training, and the ban has caused resentment.

A similar outbreak of unrest occurred last month when authorities stopped a 25-year-old woman who was wearing a full-face veil in Argenteuil, a suburb north-west of Paris.

An angry crowd gathered and police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them.