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Macron launches ‘XXL’ crackdown on French drug gangs

Macron launches 'XXL' crackdown on French drug gangs
Source: Video Screenshot

President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday launched a major operation against drug trafficking in Marseille and other French cities, saying that gangland battles that last year left dozens dead had made life a misery for residents.

On a visit to the southern port city that this year will host some Paris 2024 Olympics events, Macron said almost 100 people had been detained in the first raids.

“In Marseille and other cities in France, we have launched an unprecedented operation to put a stop to drug trafficking and ensure republican order,” Macron wrote on X, formerly Twitter, after arriving in the city.

He said that operations would be launched in about 10 French cities. Macron added that it would be an “XXL” cleanup.

Marseille has been particularly badly hit in turf wars for control of lucrative drug dealing across France. Some 49 people were killed and 123 people injured in drug related violence in 2023. Four of the dead were caught in the crossfire of gun battles.

As part of the crackdown, some 4,000 police will be mobilised in Marseille and surrounding areas for the next three weeks, according to a source close to the issue.

About 900 were stationed in the city on Monday for the start of an operation that resulted in 98 arrests in two days, with 71 people taken into custody and four guns seized, the police prefecture said.

The prefecture said that 385,000 euros ($420,000) in cash and 8.7 kilogrammes (19.1 pounds) of cannabis and 339 grams of cocaine were seized.

Macron told residents in the northern district of La Castellane, one of the worst hit areas, that the operation will “try to destroy the networks and the traffickers”.

– ‘Growing scourge’ –

“Drug trafficking is a growing scourge” and “the situation is very difficult” in Marseille and other cities, Macron said.

Macron toured districts that have a large Muslim population, and he found that the wars in Gaza and Ukraine came up as much as drug issues. Some residents urged France to do more for Palestinians.

“We have given all the means necessary to Ukraine to defend its rights. Today, what are we doing for Palestine, Mr Macron?” Ahmed Said, 35, told the president.

One woman tearfully told the president that she could not sleep because of the fate of the Palestinian children in Gaza. Macron replied: “I share your distress and I have heard it.” He said that the scope of Israel’s military operations in Gaza had become “unacceptable”.

The Gaza war broke out after the October 7 attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s relentless military response against Hamas has killed at least 31,800 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Macron warned that the conflict “should not give rise to any hatred within” France.

– ‘Asymmetrical war’ –

He was in turn warned that sending police reinforcements to Marseille would not end the city’s troubles.

“Sending them here won’t make any difference,” one youth told the president.

Violence has eased in recent weeks but could erupt again at any moment, said Marseille prosecutor Nicolas Bessone.

One alleged leader of a Marseille gang was arrested in Morocco last week.

Felix Bingui, 33, was detained in the port city of Casablanca.

Bingui is believed to be the leader of Yoda, a drug gang that has been battling the rival DZ Mafia gang.

“Narcotics crimes in Marseille are a kind of gangrene that damages the social fabric,” Marseille’s top judge Olivier Leurent said earlier this month.

Tackling the issue is all the more important for French authorities as Marseille will be a key Olympics venue.

Marseille will host the Olympic sailing events and some football matches will be held in the city.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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