Villepin told parliament that police have made 1,500 arrests since the riots began Oct. 27. The Justice Ministry said Tuesday that 52 adults and 23 minors have been sentenced to prison or detention centers. Human rights groups are warning the quick trials could intensify the anger and feelings of neglect in communities hit by the unrest.
One heavily guarded courtroom in the northeastern Paris suburb of Bobigny alone is handling about 60 riot-related cases a day and has called in three extra magistrates to deal with the overflow. The hearings continue late into the night.
Youngsters rushed through the courtroom, most of them French-born children of Arab and African immigrants, faced charges of vandalism or carrying homemade gasoline bombs.
Almost all said they were guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"It wasn't me!" a 22-year-old insisted at his trial, just three days after his arrest.
A police report read to the court said the young man reeked of gasoline and had traces of fuel on his hands when police caught him running from a fire. He insisted that two other people set the blaze in trash cans in a towerblock in the nearby suburb of Pantin.
"I only came to Pantin to buy some cannabis," said the man, whose parents immigrated from the former Yugoslavia. The man's lawyer insisted that his client only be identified by his first name, Alexandar.
The magistrate was unimpressed. After examining the evidence for 15 minutes, she sentenced Alexandar to four months in prison "given the exceptional disturbances" and called the next case amid jeering and insults from the floor, according to the AP.
Bands of teenagers in sweatshirts, hoods pulled low over their eyes, shuffled through metal detectors to sit in on the hearings of friends or relatives.
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