Published November 13, 2005
PARIS – France's national police chief said Sunday that the country's worst rioting since the 1960s seemed to be nearing an end, but violence persisted into the night, with at least two schools set on fire and dozens of cars torched.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso proposed that the European Union give $58 million to France for helping riot-hit towns recover. He said the EU could make up to $1.2 billion available in longer-term support.
In scattered attacks overnight into Monday, vandals rammed a car into a primary school in the southern city of Toulouse before setting the building on fire and burned cars in northeastern Strasbourg. In northern France, arsonists set fire to a sports center in the suburb of Faches-Thumesnil and a school in the town of Halluin.
The rioting, sparked by the accidental electrocution deaths of two teens who thought police were chasing them, began in Paris' poor suburbs, where immigrants from North and West Africa live with their French-born children in housing projects.
Sunday was the 18th straight night of unrest, but the storm of arson attacks and other violence has lost steam since the government declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.
The number of cars burned nightly has steadily decreased — from 502 overnight into Saturday, to 374 overnight into Saturday, to 208 as Monday began. A week earlier, 1,400 cars were incinerated in a single night.
On Monday, the Cabinet was to propose a bill allowing an extension of the 12-day state of emergency if needed.
If the downward trend continues, "things could return to normal very quickly," National Police Chief Michel Gaudin said, noting that French youths burn about 100 cars on an average Saturday night.
France's worst unrest since the 1968 student-worker protests is forcing the country to confront anger that has built for decades over racial discrimination, crowded housing and unemployment. The national jobless rate is nearly 10 percent, but it is around 40 percent for youths in housing projects.
Venissieux, a Lyon suburb, was one of about 40 towns to impose a curfew for minors. "What's the point? There's not a war here!" young people cried out to patrolling police in one troubled neighborhood.
But several Venissieux mothers said the curfew made them feel more at ease.
"We always think we're going to see our car burned, or our neighbor's car burned, when we wake up in the morning," said 40-year-old Sihem, who declined to give her last name.
In the next few days, France is expected to start deporting foreigners implicated in the violence — a plan by law-and-order Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy that has caused divisions in the government.
A poll in the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche suggested Sarkozy is the politician that French people trust most to deal with the troubles. Some 53 percent said they supported him, while about 71 percent said they lacked confidence in President Jacques Chirac.
Nearly a quarter said they trusted Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right leader who was Chirac's main challenger in the 2002 presidential race. Le Pen has seized on the violence to promote his National Front party's "zero immigration" platform.
More copycat attacks were registered in neighboring countries Sunday, with 29 vehicles torched in Belgium, four cars burned in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, and two cars burned in the Swiss town of Martigny.