Could there be a European Obama? No way, at least not in France, said France's only black minister, Rama Yade. Azouz Begag agreed. Not in Britain either, added Trevor Phillips.
There are only 15 ethnic-minority MPs in Westminster, on a total of 646; in France, only one of the 577 deputies in parliament is black and none are of Arab origin.
How come? And what can be done? Anne-Laure Piganeau de Chammard provides the run-down.
When President Sarkozy personally shepherded three women of immigrant background into his government in May 2007, it was a bold move; no government before, left or right, had been as inclusive. In a government bureaucracy as status conscious as France's, it was all the bolder because all three came from truly modest backgrounds. It was a "fairytale" - but is it, as a Guardian piece said about Dati's story last month, one that "has started to go spectacularly wrong"? The headline was "The rise and fall of Rachida Dati". This month sees a new article headlined "The rise and fall of Rama Yade". So what happened?
Strikes and protests by lecturers and students which have disrupted French universities for six weeks are threatening to turn violent and merge with broader anger against President Nicolas Sarkozy's reforms and the economic crisis.
Student barricades closed two universities in Montpellier in the south of France today and sit-ins last week exploded into scuffles, vandalism and even death threats.
At the heart of the standoff is the government's attempt to shake up the terms of employment for university teachers. Under their existing contracts, French academics, like academics elsewhere, are meant to divide their time between teaching and undertaking original research. In practice, the government says, some researchers rarely teach and some teachers rarely do any research.
Under the proposed reform, academics who failed to complete their research hours would be obliged to teach for longer.
Some teaching unions have portrayed the reform as a right-wing plot against academic freedom and independence, a view which left-wing students have accepted.
Ten days ago, Mme Pécresse agreed to a revised version of her plan which would allow individual university teachers to refuse any enforced change in their timetables.
The talks failed, however, to solve another grievance over proposed changes in the training of primary and secondary school teachers.
The strikes and blockages have continued and now threaten " as in Montpellier yesterday " to be hijacked by student groups protesting against all attempts by M. Sarkozy to reform the education system.
Gendarmes were called in on Friday to expel students and alleged outsiders who had occupied an amphitheatre at a Montpellier university.
After scuffling and severe damage to university buildings, administrators insisted that people without student cards would be banned from the campus in future.
Students barricaded themselves into two Montpellier universities today in protest.
Three nights of riots in French town after 21-year-old dies in police custody
Algerian family files lawsuit as Firminy case echoes other riots on suburban estates
Friday 10 July 2009 14.10
Firefighters tackling a blaze last night in Firminy, central France, after clashes between police and youths for the third consecutive night.
French riot police firing teargas and plastic bullets have struggled to contain three nights of rioting and arson by youths on suburban estates in the Loire, amid protests over the death of a 21-year-old in police custody.
High-rises in Firminy, a small town bordering countryside on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne, saw running battles between police and youths in the early hours of this morning after Mohamed Benmouna, a local supermarket cashier, was taken from his police cell in a coma and died in hospital.
Benmouna, who had been arrested on extortion charges, died on Wednesday. Police said he attempted to hang himself in his cell and fell into a coma. His Algerian family, sceptical of the official story, have filed a lawsuit to establish the circumstances of his death and whether police violence was covered up.
The local state prosecutor, Jacques Pin, said a postmortem confirmed Benmouna died of suffocation and his body showed no trace of violence or police abuse. But he said video surveillance equipment that would normally have filmed Benmouna's cell was not functioning properly. The police inspectorate has opened an investigation.
For three nights, youths have taken to the streets of Firminy to riot over the death, burning local shops, torching dozens of cars and stoning police, despite repeated pleas for calm from the family. Last night the family and 200 locals staged a peaceful sit-down protest outside their block of flats. But later groups of youths began torching buildings and cars and stoning police. The local bakers, chemist, tobacconist and hairdressing salon were razed. Two hundred riot police were brought in to control rioters with teargas and plastic bullets. Six arrests were made.
The Benmouna case has reopened France's festering sore - the dire relations between police and youths of immigrant descent on suburban estates. The case has echoes of the 2005 urban riots triggered by the deaths of two teenagers trying to escape from police in Clichy-sous-Bois, a Paris suburb. In November 2007, the death of two boys in a collision with a police car sparked violence and rioting in the Paris suburb of Villier-le-Bel, as youths railed against what they said was widespread police injustice.
Abdelkader Benmouna, Mohamed's father, who will lead a silent remembrance march tomorrow told reporters that he wanted to know how his son had time to make a noose in his cell. "Where were the police during all that time? That's the question, that's where I'm looking for the truth."
The case comes months after an Amnesty International report warned that France routinely failed to investigate police brutality including racial abuse, excessive force and unlawful killings. The study, which said the majority of victims of alleged cases of police brutality were from ethnic minorities or foreigners, confirmed an earlier United Nations warning of "allegations of persistent discriminatory behaviour" towards certain ethnic groups by the police.
The report focused on specific cases of alleged brutality, including cases of men of African or north African origin who died after alleged ill-treatment. In one case, a Malian, Abou Bakari Tandia, was stopped by police for an identity check and taken to a police station where he fell into a coma in his cell and later died from multiple organ failure. Police said he inflicted the injuries himself.
The French police union Alliance denounced the rioting in Firminy, rejecting accusations that officers at the police station could have been responsible for Benmouna's death.
French youths burn 300 cars to mark Bastille Day
French youths set on fire more than 300 cars overnight cars and wounded 13 policemen in street violence on the eve of the Bastille Day national holiday.
By Our Foreign Staff and Agencies in Paris
Published: 11:59AM BST 14 Jul 2009
As French troops and their guests of honour from the Indian army made last minute preparations for the July 14 parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris, the suburbs of major cities were contemplating another clean-up operation.
Police headquarters in Paris had recorded 317 burnt out cars and 240 arrests, almost double the total for the same period last year.
The injured officers, 12 members of the police and one gendarme, were mainly suffering from hearing difficulties after being targeted by youths throwing fireworks and small-scale home-made explosives.
France marks Bastille Day as the anniversary of July 14, 1789, when a revolutionary mob stormed the Parisian prison and set in motion the events that would lead to the overthrow of the monarchy.
Today, disaffected youths from bleak suburban housing projects around major cities use it to express their frustration with high unemployment rates and what they see as France's failure to integrate ethnic minorities.
French police to stand trial over deaths of two youths that sparked 2005 riots
Appeal court rules officers should face criminal trial over two teenagers who were electrocuted after running away from police
Two French police officers have been ordered to face trial over the deaths of two teenagers who were electrocuted in 2005 after running away from police, triggering the worst rioting in France for 40 years.
After eight years of legal wrangling and a campaign led by the boys' families, the appeal court in Rennes ruled that a criminal trial should take place. It promises to be one of the most important police court cases in recent years.
For eight years, the faces of Zyed Benna, 17, and Bouna Traoré, 15, have symbolised the dire relations and mistrust between police and youths in French tower blocks. The two teenagers were electrocuted while hiding in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois, north of Paris, in October 2005. Another 17-year-old survived with severe burns. The boys were rushing home from a football match for their evening meal during Ramadan.
A subsequent inquiry found they had not committed any crime but when they saw a police van cross their path, they fled, were chased by police and hid in a highly dangerous electricity substation. Their deaths by electrocution triggered riots on the boys' run-down estates in Clichy-sous-Bois, north of Paris, which soon spread across France. Riots raged for weeks on housing estates across the country - more than 9,000 vehicles and dozens of public buildings and businesses were set on fire as the government invoked emergency powers to quell the worst unrest in mainland France in nearly 40 years.
The two police officers will face trial on charges of "non-assistance to a person in danger" for failing to come to the boys' aid. The police did not notify the French energy company EDF that the boys were hiding in the substation. The officers' lawyers argued they never thought the boys were in the substation.
Siaka Traoré, Bouna's brother, told French media: "There's progress, a certain recognition." Adel Benna, Zyed's brother, said: "To turn the page we need a trial. We're waiting for explanations."
An earlier ruling that the case against the officers should be dropped was overturned by France's highest court last year. Lawyers for the police officers could still appeal against the decision to hold a trial.