PARIS French police unions complained angrily on Monday about being sent into gang-ridden "no-go zones" after two officers were seriously injured in a petrol bomb attack during a routine surveillance job in an area south of Paris at the weekend.
The incident, in which around 15 people attacked a patrol car in broad daylight on Saturday, played into a national debate on security in the run-up to next year's presidential election. It prompted calls from political adversaries for the resignation of Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
"We're very angry. It is surreal that colleagues be injured on such a mission," said Nicolas Comte, a spokesman for France's second-biggest police union, Unité SGP Police.
Unions urged staff to take part in silent protests in front of police stations throughout France on Tuesday, and called for a go-slow in the area where the attack was carried out to press the government to give police more resources.
"Despite all the reassurances, there are still no-go zones in France ruled by a handful of gangs of criminals who get more and more radical as the years go by," the SCSI-CFDT union said.
After two years marked by deadly militant attacks, and with France still under emergency law, security is dominating the agenda in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections starting in April 2017.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the attackers would be hunted down and punished, and insisted there are no no-go zones in France. But opponents were quick to accuse President Francois Hollande's Socialist government of being a soft touch on law and order.
"A strong state is a state that does not go into retreat, a state that gets rid of no-go zones," said Alain Juppe, the centre-right politician that opinion polls favour to become France's next president.
The police team that was attacked had been posted in a parked car to watch a closed-circuit TV camera that had been broken several times since it was installed by town authorities after a spate of smash-and-grab robberies targeting motorists.
(Reporting by Gerard Bon; Writing by Brian Love and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Mark Trevelyan)