French President Nicolas Sarkozy, visiting police officers injured in riots, vowed yesterday to take a tough line against protesters after a sharp drop in the nightly violence.
Youths in Paris suburbs and the southern city of Toulouse torched several cars and set rubbish bins ablaze in the third night of violence. But officials reported no major clashes between youths and police who were out in force.
Shortly after returning to France after a trip to China, Sarkozy went to a hospital in the northern Paris suburb where a senior police officer is being treated for serious injuries after he was attacked at the start of the violence on Sunday.
"So that things are very clear: What has happened is absolutely unacceptable," Sarkozy said after meeting with the wounded police captain hospitalized in Eaubonne, north of Paris.
Sarkozy, a law-and-order hardliner and interior minister during riots two years ago, vowed to bring to justice rioters who had shot at police officers.
"Those who take it upon themselves to shoot at police will find themselves in the Assizes Court," Sarkozy told reporters.
Shooting at police "has a name -- attempted murder," he said. "We will find the shooters. We will put in the necessary resources ... It is not something that we can tolerate, no matter how dramatic the deaths of these two youngsters on a motorbike may be."
Sarkozy met the families of the two teenagers and the mayor of Villiers-le-Bel yesterday morning before having a security meeting with his top ministers.
While cars were set ablaze for a third night on Tuesday, officials said the violence was less intense than the two previous nights. Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said the overall situation was "calm." Still, she said on Europe-1 radio, police presence would remain reinforced "as long as necessary."
She said 39 people were arrested in the Paris region on Tuesday night.
Bands of young people set more cars on fire on Tuesday night in and around Villiers-le-Bel. In the southern city of Toulouse, 20 cars were set ablaze, and fires at two libraries were quickly brought under control, police said.
The previous night, 82 officers were injured, 10 of them by buckshot and pellets, the police said.
The violence has revived memories of the riots in 2005, the worst unrest in France in 40 years, when thousands of cars were set afire after two teenagers were electrocuted in a power sub-station after apparently fleeing police.
The new violence erupted on Sunday when two teenagers were killed in a collision with a police car. It spread on Tuesday night to the southern city of Toulouse, where a library was attacked and about 20 cars were set ablaze.
High unemployment, underperforming schools, poor relations with the police, inadequate housing and new immigration laws have created a generation of frustrated youths in rundown areas.
There have long been tensions between France's largely white police force and ethnic minorities trapped in poor neighborhoods. Despite decades of problems and heavy state investments to improve housing and create jobs, the depressed projects that ring Paris are a world apart from the tourist attractions of the French capital. Police speak of no-go zones where they and firefighters fear to patrol.