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Worst violence in years rocks northern French city

About 100 youths clashed with police in the French city of Amiens overnight. Sixteen police were reported to have been wounded as the youths set cars, a sports center and a primary school ablaze.

"The confrontations were very, very violent," Amiens Mayor Gilles Demailly told French television network BFM . Demailly also said he had encountered a "scene of desolation" in the northern quarter of a city that is known for its university and its 13th century Gothic cathedral.

"There have been regular incidents here but it has been years since we've known a night as violent as this with so much damage," Demailly told AFP.

The crowd, composed mostly of young men, also pulled drivers from their cars and stole the vehicles. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the unrest after suffering injuries caused by buckshot, fireworks and other projectiles thrown by rioters. Up to 150 police were involved in fracas.

"Sixteen police were injured, some by buckshot fire," prefect's office spokesperson Thomas Lavielle told television station i>TELE TV.

On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande voiced his concern over the violence.

"The state will mobilize all its means to combat these violent acts," Hollande said. "Security is not only a priority for us, it is an obligation."

Later Tuesday, Interior Minister Manuel Valls was due to visit the city roughly 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Paris to survey the damage.

Amiens police said the riot began around 9 p.m. local time. It ended, they said, when federal law enforcement reinforcements arrived early Tuesday morning. Local media reported the clashes were apparently sparked by tension over recent police checks on residents.

A restless city

The violence followed smaller clashes over the weekend, which were triggered by the arrest of a man for dangerous driving. According to AFP, the arrest was seen as insensitive as it came as many residents of the neighborhood were attending a funeral for a local youth who had died in a motorbike accident.

Amiens has had a history of unrest recently. Earlier this month, the district where Monday night's violence occurred, was declared among the 15 most troubled in France, with the French government pledging more security and more money.

Tensions remain high in France's rundown suburbs, where high unemployment, racial discrimination, a widespread sense of alienation and mistrust of police has periodically sparked violence.

Weeks of rioting in 2005 were followed by months of debate over the integration of millions of black and North African immigrants into mainstream society.

The death of two youths hit by a police car sparked further violence in 2007. More unrest followed in 2010, when police shot and killed a youth who robbed a casino.

bm/mz (AFP, Reuters)