Vol. 5 Num 514 Mon. November 07, 2005  
Front Page

Riots fan out in French cities
1,300 cars, shopping mall, 2 schools torched

Gangs of youths torched 1,300 vehicles overnight in the 10th consecutive night of violence in Paris's poor suburbs and major French towns, despite the deployment of thousands of extra police.

Cars were burnt out in the historic centre of Paris for the first time on Saturday night. In the normally quiet Normandy town of Evreux, a shopping mall, 50 vehicles, a post office and two schools went up in flames.

Authorities have so far found no way beyond appeals and more police to address a problem with complex social, economic and racial causes.

Evreux Mayor Jean-Louis Debre, a confidant of President Jacques Chirac and speaker of the lower house of parliament, told France Info radio: "To those responsible for the violence, I want to say: Be serious ... If you want to live in a fairer, more fraternal society, this is not how to go about it."

The deaths 10 days ago of two youths apparently fleeing police ignited pent up frustrations among young men, many of them Muslims of North and black African origin, at racism, unemployment, their marginal place in French society and their treatment by the police.

"Many youths have never seen their parents work and couldn't hold down a job if they got one," said Claude Chevallier, manager of a burnt-out carpet depot in the rundown Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois.

But authorities now say the rolling nightly riots are being organised via the internet and mobile phones, and have pointed the finger at drug traffickers and Islamist militants.

Overnight, 1,295 vehicles were torched across France, the highest total so far, police said. An extra 2,300 officers have been drafted in.

Seven police helicopters buzzed over the Paris region through the night, filming disturbances and directing mobile squads to incidents. Overnight, police made 349 arrests.

The number of incidents in the Paris region was similar to the night before, but in the provinces it was up sharply.

The violence has tarnished France's image abroad, forcing Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to cancel a trip to Canada, while Russia and the United States have warned their citizens to avoid Paris' troubled suburbs.

Villepin has combined a call for an end to the riots with dialogue with community leaders, youngsters and local officials, and has promised an action plan for 750 tough neighbourhoods.

"I'll make proposals as early as this week," the weekly Journal du Dimanche quoted him as saying.

But it remained unclear what could stop the violence, though some opposition parties have suggested a symbolic measure -- the resignation of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Meanwhile, French President Jacques Chirac yesterday called a special meeting of security officials, including Prime Minister Villepin, ministers for defence, justice, economy and Sarkozy, to discuss the worsening riots, his office said.

Accused of stoking passions by calling troublemakers "scum," Sarkozy has ignored calls to quit. A survey published yesterday indicated his public image was holding up, even if many disapproved of his strong language.

Villepin also has ambitions to be the right wing's presidential candidate in 2007 and has tried to position himself as a much more consensual figure than Sarkozy; the effect on the crisis on his ratings is still unclear.

With no end in sight to the nights of wailing sirens, acrid smoke, stone-throwing and destruction, residents from all ethnic backgrounds are tiring of the unrest.