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June 17, 2020

Dijon violence and the politics of law and order

Images of gang violence in Dijon, but also destructive protests in Paris, are shocking France. Videos and comments went viral on social media, though interestingly there was hardly any coverage in the main newspapers. At a moment when the French are just about to find their way back to normality, these pictures are a reminder that this includes violent clashes and destruction of property. It raises the need for law and order just at the time when young people are taking to the streets to protest against excessive use of police force. A political nightmare.

Dijon looked like the war zone in those videos, with gangs carrying rifles and a car accident that seemed out of an action movie. Armed police came in to restore order only yesterday, after four days of unrest. According to the police, these were revenge attacks following an assault on a 16-year-old Chechen boy. Chechen gangs had issued a social media call for vengeance, urging Chechens to travel from Belgium and around France to join them in Dijon against the Algerians. The videos show armed Chechens firing assault rifles and roaming the streets of a poor neighbourhood of Dijon, a French town normally known for its culinary products.

Compared with Dijon, the incidents in Paris seem minor. Still, some of the images from Paris are powerful, especially in a context of violence in other parts of the country. Health care workers were demonstrating for better pay and resources. These were largely peaceful protests until they were marred by some radicals throwing stones and other projectiles which injured several police officers. 

Law-and-order is back on the political agenda. Marine Le Pen was quick to seize the moment and went to Dijon to give a press conference. It is an ideal subject for the far right ahead of the second round of municipal elections next week. The Socialist mayor of the city, François Rebsamen, is set to win his fourth term there. He blamed the lack of police resources for the late response. This is his take: 

"We’re no longer in a [functioning] republic when that’s how things play out. Since justice is passed too late and the police do not have the means to act, the Chechen community has come to enforce its own rights."

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June 17, 2020

A Franco-German divide on holding Turkey accountable over Libya

Turkey and France are engaged in an escalating war of words over Libya. France accused Turkey on Monday of an increasingly aggressive role in Libya, taking advantage of Nato and scuppering truce efforts by shipping weapons to Libya. Turkey reacted yesterday by accusing France of dark ties to General Khalifa Haftar, in violation of UN and Nato decisions and against the internationally-recognised government of national accord (GNA). The two countries would continue to raise the tone if left to themselves, so Germany entered the scene.

Angela Merkel agreed with Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reinvigorate the UN-sponsored peace talks. What exactly this means, we do not know. She clearly has no interest in relations between Europe and Turkey deteriorating at this moment. Whether there is a strategy behind her move that could lead to a successful peace agreement in Libya is another matter.

What about the Cairo peace initiative, hailed by Merkel and other international actors as a way forward? The GNA and Turkey had rejected Egypt's proposal of a political initiative to resolve the Libya crisis, which would have included a ceasefire as a first step. The Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had announced this initiative during a joint conference with Haftar earlier this month. 

But the GNA rejected the ceasefire and continued its fight for control of the strategic coastal city of Sirte and the Jufra base. With Haftar losing territory as the GNA and Turkey see a chance to advance into oil rich regions, the chance of a ceasefire is slim. Erdogan might have another plan for Libya which he referred to in one of his statements this week. He said only last week that he expects Haftar to be out of the equation soon. So, whatever Merkel's boost of peace talks means, Haftar is not the man to count on if Erdogan is to be brought in.

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