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Spectre of gun crime haunts Marseille once more


Rampant gun crime in Marseille returned to the top of France's political agenda on Friday after the son of a director of Olympique Marseille football club became its latest victim.

Adrien Anigo, the son of OM's current sporting director and former coach Jose Anigo, was one of two men gunned down in the troubled southern port on Thursday and the 15th victim this year of violence police believe is mostly linked to the local drugs trade.

Like most of the other victims of a murder wave that has resulted in at least 39 deaths since the start of 2012, Anigo died in circumstances with all the hallmarks of a planned assassination, shot through the head at close range by assailants riding a high-cylinder motorbike.

The death pushed Syria off the top of television news bulletins in France and triggered a now familiar round of squabbling and hand-wringing among politicians and media commentators who have long despaired over how to stem the endemic violence in the country's biggest port.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls called on local and national politicians of all stripes to come together in a "national pact" aimed at charting a way out of the current crisis, while acknowledging that there are no easy solutions to problems that are intertwined with the issues of unemployment, poverty and the marginalisation of Marseille's large north African community.

"Neighbourhoods have been abandoned to the dealers," Valls said. "It will take time but everyone now has to get round the table and try to give some hope to the people of Marseille."

The minister's initiative was denounced as a "smokescreen" by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, who accused the Socialist government of failing to address lawlessness in Marseille's poorest neighbourhoods for fear of aggravating racial tensions.

Members of the centre-right UMP, the main opposition force, also accused the government of being soft on crime.

UMP deputy Jacques Myard called for Marseille to be placed under special powers to enable a real crackdown.

"Is Marseille still a part of France?" he asked. "Is it going to become the model for the rest of the country?

"There is no other solution than taking a firm stance and giving ourselves the means to rid these neighbourhoods of the arms that seem to proliferate in them. Seal them off and go through every house with a fine-tooth comb and expel all the foreigners who are linked to the drugs trade."

Myard's radical proposals echoed calls made last year for the army to be sent in to police Marseille's toughest neighbourhoods.

That solution was rejected by the government, which has instead pinned its hopes on the creation of two special security zones in the city. Valls claims the policy is beginning to bear fruit, but the failure to stem the murder wave has left him on the defensive.

-- 'Marshall plan' for Marseille --

Community groups have called for the government to put in place a "Marshall plan" aimed at regenerating the city's poorest neighbourhoods, while local politicians argue that Marseille's problems would be reduced if the city benefited from the kind of public spending they feel is lavished on Paris and its surrounding region.

The "Marshall plan" idea -- named for the US aid that helped western European countries rebuild after World War II -- came from a protest movement that emerged in the wake of a double killing in March that took place in broad daylight and was witnessed by children playing on a rundown social housing estate.

That was followed in June by the killing of 27-year-old drug dealer Djibril Abbas, who was shot more than 30 times with a Kalashnikov in a slaying reminiscent of a scene from "The Godfather".

Kalashnikovs have become the weapon of choice for Marseille murders.

The proliferation of the automatic rifles, a Europe-wide hangover from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, is seen as an important part of the city's problems. But authorities appear to be at a loss over how to combat it.

As gnarled and leathery as a grizzly old sailor, Marseille has been a Mediterranean trading hub since antiquity and has long had a reputation as a hotbed of crime.

In the 19th century, the level of registered offences was three times higher there than in any other French city and there have been regular outbursts of gang violence ever since.

Drugs-related crime is also not new, with the city's central role in the international heroin trade famously portrayed in the 1971 film "The French Connection".

That trade was controlled by powerful international syndicates and the heroin passing through Marseille was largely destined for other markets.

In contrast, the current violence is seen as the product of a free-for-all in the supply of marijuana and related soft drugs to the local market.

A combination of chronic unemployment and the easy availability of supplies from north Africa make it easy and attractive for local youths to set themselves up as dealers -- a situation that experts say makes deadly turf wars inevitable.