'It's becoming like Chicago': the slide into despair and fear of a once-thriving small French town

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The once-prosperous textile-producing town of Lavelanet, at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains close to the Spanish border, has for decades suffered a decline that was sharply accentuated by the recent economic crisis. With dwindling public services and with a quarter of the active population unemployed, it is a mirror image of many towns across France where the loss of industrial activity has sapped the local social fabric. In this, the second of three reports from the southern département of the Ariège, Mathieu Magnaudeix finds that in Lavelanet, amid a pervading collective sense of abandonment, concern over law and order and fear of 'outsiders' dominate the conversation.

 

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By nature Marylène Galy is an energetic woman. Working six-and-a-half days a week in her store, she needs to be. But on November 29th her enthusiasm for her job received a blow when, in the middle of the afternoon, two hooded robbers armed with a hunting rifle came into the tobacconist store she runs in Lavelanet in southern France. The pair got away with a meagre haul of one hundred euros and three packets of cigarettes and no one was hurt.