Chirac Vows to Restore Order

Published November 07, 2005

| Associated Press

President Jacques Chirac (search) promised Sunday to restore public order across France as unrest spread from suburban Paris (search) to cities south and north, with rioters battling police, throwing Molotov cocktails and ramming a car into a housing project during an 11th night of mayhem.

About 10 police officers were injured, including two seriously, during clashes with hundreds of youths in Grigny in the Essonne region south of the capital, the Interior Ministry said.

Officials believe rioters may have fired with a hunting rifle. Across the country, rioters pelted Molotov cocktails (search) at cars and a school, and firefighters in some areas worked under police escort. New unrest was reported in Toulouse in the southwest and Rennes in the northwest.

Chirac spoke after a security meeting of his top ministers.

"The law must have the last word," Chirac said in his first public address on the violence. France is determined "to be stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear, and they will be arrested, judged and punished."

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin (search) promised speedy trials for rioters and extra security where it was needed.

Chirac said France was determined to promote "respect for all, justice and equal opportunities." Violence has been concentrated in poor suburbs with large immigrant populations.

"But there is a precondition, a priority, I repeat," he said. "That is the restoring of security and public order."

The French president had faced criticism from opposition politicians for not publicly speaking about France's worst civil unrest in more than a decade. His only previous comments came through a spokesman.

The violence has escalated from an outburst of anger in suburban Paris housing projects into a nationwide show of disdain for French authority from youths and minorities, most French-born children of Arab and black Africans angered by years of unequal opportunities.

Youths set ablaze nearly 1,300 vehicles and torched businesses, schools and symbols of French authority, including post offices and provincial police stations, late Saturday and early Sunday.

The violence reached the well-guarded French capital Saturday night. Police said 35 cars were torched, most on the city's northern and southern edges.

In the city center, gasoline bombs damaged three cars near Place de la Republique. Residents reported a loud explosion and flames.

"We were very afraid," said Annie Partouche, 55, who watched the cars burning from her apartment window. "We were afraid to leave the building."

In Evreux, 60 miles west of Paris, five police officers and three firefighters were injured in clashes with youths who destroyed at least 50 vehicles, shops and businesses, a post office and two schools, authorities said.

"Rioters attacked us with baseball bats," said Philippe Jofres, a deputy fire chief, told France-2 television. "We were attacked with pick axes. It was war."

About 50 cars were burned late Sunday in the Seine-Saint-Denis region north of Paris, where the violence first broke out. Arsonists burned a school and a bus in the central city of Saint-Etienne, and transport workers went on strike.

Much of the youths' anger has focused on law-and-order Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who inflamed passions by referring to troublemakers as "scum."

In Strasbourg (search), youths stole a car and rammed it into a housing project, setting the vehicle and the building on fire.

"We'll stop when Sarkozy steps down," said the defiant 17-year-old driver, identifying himself as Murat. He and several others were in police custody as smoke poured from the windows of the housing project behind them.

Arsonists burned 1,295 vehicles nationwide overnight Saturday, national police spokesman Patrick Hamon said, adding that police made 349 arrests.

For a second night, a helicopter equipped with spotlights and video cameras to track bands of marauding youths combed Paris suburbs, and small teams of police chased rioters speeding from attack to attack in cars and on motorbikes.

"What we notice is that the bands of youths are, little by little, getting more organized," arranging attacks through cell phone text messages and learning how to make gasoline bombs, Hamon said.

Police also found a gasoline bomb-making factory in a derelict building in Evry south of Paris. They confiscated 50 devices, fuel stocks and hoods for hiding rioters' faces, senior Justice Ministry official Jean-Marie Huet told The Associated Press. Police arrested six people, all under 18.

The discovery Saturday night, he said, shows that gasoline bombs "are not being improvised by kids in their bathrooms."

Police said copycat attacks are fanning the unrest but had no evidence of separate gangs coordinating. Officials said older youths, many already with police records, appear to be teaching younger teens arson techniques.

Unrest extended west to Normandy and south to Nice and Cannes on the Mediterranean coast, with attacks in and around Lyon, Lille, Marseille and Strasbourg. In all, at least 3,300 buses, cars and other vehicles have been incinerated since the unrest started Oct. 27, the police spokesman said.

The rioting erupted after two teenagers of north African descent were accidentally electrocuted as they hid in a power substation, apparently believing police were chasing them. Anger was then fanned anew days ago when a tear gas bomb exploded in a mosque in Clichy-sous-Bois — the northern suburb where the youths died.

Government officials have held a series of meetings with Muslim religious leaders, local officials and youths from poor suburbs to try to calm the violence.

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