French outraged by arrest of boys aged 6 and 10

Thu May 21, 2009 2:04pm EDT
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BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) - Two French boys, aged six and 10, were arrested at school by half a dozen police officers and questioned for two hours over bicycle thefts, triggering public outrage.

Politicians, teachers and parents said officers in the municipality of Floirac in southwestern France had overreacted to the situation, but the police maintain they acted correctly.

The six-year-old confessed to taking one of the bikes, while the 10-year-old, his cousin, was still being investigated, departmental security director Albert Doutre told a press conference.

He added that officers had used "good judgment" and that the mother of one of the boys had been present during the questioning.

In the incident, which took place Tuesday but was only made public Thursday, police waited for the two pupils in front of the school's entrance after the mother of another child reported she had seen them on stolen bikes, witnesses said.

"They could have talked to the family instead of waiting for 200 children to come out of the school to arrest two ... schoolboys in front of their little friends," said the school's headmaster, Olivier Billand.

Police first stopped the older boy and bundled him into one of the cars together with his bike, then waited for the younger one and did the same with him, said the older boy's mother, Aicha Ouachim. Her son now refuses to go to school, she said.

While President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party has campaigned on a law-and-order platform, it was quick to condemn the police's actions, calling it "unacceptable" in a statement.

Education Minister Xavier Darcos has ordered an internal investigation into the incident.

(Reporting by Claude Canellas; Editing by Matthew Jones)