PARIS – Police tightened security in central Paris on Friday with riot forces and bomb squads along the Champs-Elysees, and angry residents of riot-torn suburbs staged a sit-in Friday near the Eiffel Tower, calling for an end to more than two weeks of arson and vandalism across France.
The moves came as the wave of violence that spread outward from Paris's impoverished outlying neighborhoods appeared to be calming in other French cities but remained persistent in the capital.
"Stop the Violence," read one banner draped on the Wall of Peace near the Eiffel Tower. Some of the 200 demonstrators — a small turnout in protest-friendly France — waved white flags.
The dozens of civic groups timed their demonstrations to coincide with official military commemorations for Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I. Hours before the sit-in, bomb squad police with dogs and metal-detecting wands screened spectators as a military parade processed down the famed Paris avenue.
"Today, we don't want an armistice — we want peace," national police chief Michel Gaudin said. "An armistice is a temporary halt. What we want is definitive peace for the suburbs."
Police blocked off large swaths of central Paris, with trucks of riot police also deployed near the presidential palace. Some 715 officers brought in from other districts raised the full deployment to 2,220.
In another security measure, Paris police announced a ban from Saturday morning to Sunday morning on public gatherings that "could provoke or encourage disorder." The police statement cited concerns about a string of mobile phone or Internet messages — methods neighborhood youths have used to organize themselves during the riots — calling for gatherings and urging "violent actions" in the French capital.
The unrest has weakened in intensity across the rest of France under state-of-emergency measures enacted Wednesday and a heavy police presence. On Thursday, a 15th consecutive night of violence saw fewer skirmishes and fewer cars burned — 463, down from 482 the previous night, police said. Among the few buildings hit was a village banquet hall vandalized and burned in the southeastern Drome region, officials said.
In suburban Paris, however, the number of car burnings increased to 111, from 84 the night before.
"We have seen a continued drop beyond Paris, but persistence near the capital," national police spokesman Patrick Hamon said. "We cannot yet claim victory. The drop remains fragile."
France's foreign minister, speaking in Ukraine after meeting his counterpart, also said Friday that order had been restored in "most cities."
"The situation is being stabilized," Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Kiev.
The mayhem sweeping neglected and impoverished neighborhoods with large African and Arab communities has forced France to confront anger building for decades among residents who complain of discrimination and unemployment. Although many of the French-born children of Arab and black African immigrants are Muslim, police say the violence is not being driven by Islamic groups.
President Jacques Chirac acknowledged Thursday that France must confront the social inequalities and prejudice that has fueled the violence — France's worst since the 1968 student-worker uprising.
"There is a need to respond strongly and rapidly to the undeniable problems faced by many residents of underprivileged neighborhoods around our cities," Chirac said.
"Whatever our origins, we are all the children of the Republic, and we can all expect the same rights."
The first night of violence on Oct. 27 was touched off by youths angered by the accidental deaths of two teenagers who believed they were being chased by police. The teens hid in a power substation and were electrocuted.
Rioting swiftly spread from the northeastern suburban Paris town of Clichy-sous-Bois and grew into a nationwide wave of arson and nightly clashes between youths armed with firebombs and police retaliating with tear gas.
The Justice Ministry said Friday that 398 people have been jailed since the violence began — 272 convicted in expedited trials and the rest detained pending court appearances. Eighty-one were minors.
Bursts of similar violence have erupted in places like neighboring Germany and Belgium, in what authorities believe may be copycat attacks. In Athens, Greece, about 70 youths carrying clubs laid siege Friday to the entrance of the French Institute to express support for the youths in France. They smashed window and hurled paint at the building, though no injuries or arrests were reported.
Residents representing nearly 160 suburban communities were to stage a sit-in Friday afternoon at the Wall of Peace on the Champ de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower, and possibly hold a peace march.
March organizer Banlieues Respects, a group whose name means "Suburb Respect," issued a statement urging "an immediate end to the violence and for peace to return to the neighborhoods where our parents, brothers and sisters have lived for the past two weeks in a climate of uncertainty."
Police on Thursday suspended eight officers, two of them who allegedly beat a man who was detained, causing "superficial lesions" on the forehead and the right foot, the Interior Ministry said.
Three of the officers were released Friday; the five others were expected to appear before a judge before being placed under investigation — a step short of formal charges, said prosecutors on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing.