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French Lower House OKs Three-Month State of Emergency Extension After Weeks of Riots

France's lower house of parliament voted Tuesday to extend a state of emergency for three months, after the government said the extra powers are still needed to end the country's worst civil unrest in four decades.

The government also moved to deport 10 foreigners convicted during the 19 days of violence in troubled poor neighborhoods.

The National Assembly voted 346-148 for the extension, which would keep the measure in place through mid-February. The measure goes next to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved Wednesday and go into effect at midnight Monday.

The opposition Socialist Party argued against an extension, saying emergency measures were no longer needed because violence is abating. But the extension passed with support from President Jacques Chirac's governing conservatives backed by centrist lawmakers.

The 12-day state of emergency was declared Nov. 9.

National Police Chief Michel Gaudin said vandals torched 215 vehicles overnight, continuing a steady decline that showed France was "getting back to normal" after nights of arson attacks, clashes with police and other unrest.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, arguing for the extension, said that because of the unrest, France faces one of its "sharpest and most complex urban crises."

Sarkozy, who many immigrants say has fanned the violence with combative talk, told the National Assembly that many people live with "fear in the belly" because of crime in tough areas.

"The state of emergency has been, is and will be applied with discretion," Sarkozy said. "The stakes are considerable. If republican order does not rule in these neighborhoods, gangs and extremists will."

The crisis has led to collective soul-searching about France's failure to integrate its African and Muslim minorities. Anger about high unemployment and discrimination has fanned frustration among the French-born children of immigrants.

While violence has eased, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told parliament that "the situation remains difficult in a great number of neighborhoods. We cannot accept that more than 200 cars burn each night."

He said the emergency measures could be lifted before three months if "peace is restored in a lasting manner."

The emergency powers allow regional officials to impose curfews and permit police searches without a warrant and other measures to stop unrest. About 40 towns, including France's third-largest city, Lyon, have imposed curfews on minors.

Aside from adopting security measures, the government also is taking longer-term steps to reduce unemployment, discrimination and suburban decay — all factors behind the violence.

In a televised address Monday, his first since the violence erupted Oct. 27, Chirac announced creation of national volunteer corps to provide job training for 50,000 youths by 2007. He said he would meet business and labor leaders to discuss work force diversity and more jobs for youths from tough neighborhoods.

"We can build nothing lasting if we allow racism, intolerance and abuse," Chirac said. "We can build nothing lasting unless we fight this poison for society that is discrimination."

Villepin carried Chirac's message to youths in Aulnay-sous-Bois near Paris on Tuesday, saying the government would be firm with vandals but was determined to better integrate youths from minority backgrounds into French society.

"We must be mobilized against the feeling of injustice, against discrimination," Villepin said, calling the task a "daily job" that the government was committed to seeing through.

The latest violence included an attack targeting Muslims. Vandals threw three firebombs at a mosque in Saint-Chamond in the Loire region, causing minor damage, national police said. It was the third attack of its kind on a mosque since Friday.

However, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday that no major clashes between youths and police and no injuries were reported overnight. Youths set fire to 215 vehicles compared with 284 the previous night, it said. In Paris, 13 vehicles were torched.

The numbers have fallen steadily since vandals burned 1,408 vehicles across France in one night on Nov. 6. In all, 8,500 vehicles have been torched, 100 public buildings and 100 companies destroyed or damaged, 125 police officers injured, 2,800 people arrested, and 600 jailed, Villepin told parliament.

The unrest was set off by the accidental electrocution of two teenagers as they hid from police in a power substation in the northeast Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.