PARIS -- Hundreds of youths from the poor, immigrant suburbs that erupted in riots last year marched through Paris yesterday to present a collection of 20,000 grievances to lawmakers and urge the disenfranchised to make themselves heard with a vote, not violence.
The march came ahead of tomorrow's first anniversary of the riots by disaffected youths from the housing developments where people of Arab and black African descent live outside France's big cities. Many in the country fear new violence with rising tensions in recent weeks.
"The context is still the same, nothing has changed. So the situation is propitious for other events like last year," said Samir Mihi, cofounder of the AC-Le Feu group that collected the grievances from minorities all over France.
The demonstrators held notebooks filled with complaints while crossing southern Paris toward the Assembly, the lower house of parliament.
"Immigrants scare the French" read one unsigned entry. Another entry, by a 17-year-old boy from Besancon in eastern France, urged companies to use their profits to create more jobs.
Police blocked the marchers as they neared the National Assembly, allowing only a small group to reach the parliament. Security forces have been girding for renewed violence around tomorrow's anniversary, and many streets in southern Paris were blocked by vans of riot police.
The crowd sang "La Marseillaise," France's national anthem, and broke into chants of "Vive la France," proclaiming their allegiance to a country where they often feel unwelcome. Last year's riots sprang in part from anger over high unemployment and discrimination against immigrants and their French-born children, many of them Muslims from former French colonies in Africa.
Police said the violence was not driven by Islamic groups.
France's inability to better integrate minorities and recent violence against police are becoming major issues as the campaign heats up for next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
While politicians on the left have called for more government programs to integrate poor youths since the riots, the leading presidential contender on the right, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, has sought to crack down on crime and immigration and echoed slogans of the extreme right.
AC-Le Feu was created shortly after the three weeks of unrest sparked by the deaths on Oct. 27, 2005, of two young boys of African descent who were electrocuted in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois, northeast of Paris, while hiding from police.
The group crisscrossed France in two painted minibuses in a tour of 120 suburbs and towns to meet with young and old and document their worries in their "Book of Grievances."
Their plan was to take the people's voices to Paris and hand over the notebooks to lawmakers. However, the head of the National Assembly refused to meet with the group.