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Immigrants jailed for detention centre fire

media Demonstrators near the detention centre Photo: AFP

Ten immigrants, most of them from Mali and Morocco, have been jailed for their role in a fire in a detention centre in the Paris suburb of Vincennes. Their lawyers called the verdict political and biased.

"This is a heavy sentence, which is political and unjustified and follows the prosecution's demands almost to the letter," said defence lawyer Irène Terrel, as anti-racist activists protested outside the court.

The accused were found guilty of arson and violence against people in authority. The heaviest sentence was three years in jail. Two other defendants received two-and-a-half year sentences, three were jailed for two years, two for one year and two to eight months.

The fire followed the death of a Tunisian inmate, and ravaged what was at the time the largest detention centre in the country for immigrants waiting to be deported. It sparked further debate on the controversial immigration policy of President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

It followed several clashes between inmates and warders. Police concluded that it was started by piles of mattresses being set alight in four rooms.

Defence lawyers walked out of the trial, which took place in January and February. They accused the court of accepting biased testimony from police officers and inconclusive evidence from video surveillance and complained that insufficient attention was paid to the Tunisian inmate's death.

The court turned down their demands for a visit to the scene and assessments of the accuseds' characters.

The defence says it will appeal.

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