How a Roma invasion sparked the rise of France’s racist Right as gangs running riot and an explosion of crime prompted revenge attacks by extremists
Two young tourists stroll lazily across Place Sainte-Opportune in Central Paris, using a map to navigate the quiet backstreets linking the Louvre with Notre Dame Cathedral. Halfway across the picturesque cobbles they are approached by a group of teenage boys, who appear to be the children of Roma gipsies. There are eight of them, smiling manically and blowing kisses.
The tourists, both American men in their 20s, attempt to wave the beggars politely away. But the youths refuse to leave: instead, they crowd closer. Within seconds, the two men are surrounded. Hands grab at their pockets, or reach for their rucksacks. Voices are raised and a scuffle ensues.
It takes perhaps 20 seconds for the confusion to clear. By that time, the shocked Americans have been relieved of their bags, which lie torn open on the pavement, surrounded by personal belongings. At least one camera has been stolen, along with a wallet. Mobile phones are missing. A pair of designer sunglasses lie twisted in the gutter.