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21st-century Bastille Day riots

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21st-century Bastille Day riots
Around 500,000 people demonstrate in Paris, Tuesday April 4, 2006, as part of a nationwide day of strikes and protests to call for the complete abrogation of the unpopular First Employment Contract (CPE). (UPI Photo/William Alix) | License Photo

PARIS, July 14 (UPI) -- Before the French establishment celebrated the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, there was another annual rite of revolution on a smaller scale.

Once again the early hours of France's National Celebration were marked with the burning of more than 300 vehicles and attacks that left more than a dozen police injured, Paris police said.

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The BBC said many officers reported hearing difficulties after the protesters' set off explosives near police.

The violence occurred despite French authorities' precautions that included nearly 10,000 police being placed on guard ahead of July 14. The number of incidents and arrests was higher than in 2008, police said.

Bastille Day -- July 14 -- is the anniversary of the start of the French Revolution when the Bastille prison was stormed in 1789. The following events led to the establishment of France as it is known in the 21st century.

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But some of the same issues confront modern France that caused the uprising in the 18th century. The annual Bastille Day riots are based in a generation of French citizens who complain they are victims of high rates of unemployment and the failure of the central government to effectively bring ethnic minorities into the French mainstream.

Even the enactment of legislation that sets possible prison sentences of up to three years and maximum fines of $63,000 for people convicted of arson in such demonstrations didn't deter protests in 2009.

This year's protests were spurred by riots in Firminy in southern France. A 21-year-old Algerian died after hanging himself while in police custody. His relatives refused to accept the official explanation, and another autopsy was ordered to determine the cause of and underlying circumstances of the death.

For three nights after the death, young people roamed the streets of Firminy, setting stores and vehicles on fire and throwing debris at the 200 anti-riot police called in to quell the violence.

The instance in Firminy is a sign of an ongoing issue in France, one that made worldwide news in October 2005 when riots in several cities raged after two minority teenagers, residents of an area of Clichy-sous-Bois with large Arab and African populations, died after they tried to flee police.

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Police were investigating an alleged construction site break-in. Three people ran and hid in an operating power substation. Two of them were electrocuted.

Violent protests flared in November 2007 after two boys of Arab heritage were killed when the motorcycle they were riding was hit by a police vehicle. Again rioting spread to several areas in France in protest of the police actions and the ongoing problems with finding work.

Bastille Day is marked by a huge parade down the Champs-Elysees. This year the honor of leading the march was given to a member of the Indian military. The pomp and ceremony demand a lot of attention and national pride.

But the other demonstrations are working to direct attention to bigger modern issues than military parades. The echoes of the events of 1789 can be heard in the modern uprisings and, while it is unlikely to grow into a nationwide revolution, the French government is being forced to look into the causes of the unrest among its disaffected minority population.

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