Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 1 News List

French riots spread into Paris, 1,300 cars torched

AGENCIES , PARIS AND LONDON

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

Cars were burned out in the historic center 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."

lesson for others

The head head of Britain's race relations watchdog said yesterday that the French riots are a warning to Europe that racial integration requires a political solution.

Integration "is a job, above all, for politics," Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, wrote in the Observer newspaper.

"And so far, politics seems distressingly comfortable either fighting old race battles or celebrating our imagined happy diversity. Our French neighbors are giving us the loudest alarm call they can. Wake up, everybody," he added.

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 burned-out carpet depot in the rundown Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois.

But authorities now say the rolling nightly riots are being organized 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.

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.

TARNISHED IMAGE

The violence has tarnished France's image abroad, forcing Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to cancel a trip to Canada, while Russia and the US 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 neighborhoods.

"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.

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