PARIS – A high school guard suffered a heart attack and died Monday while trying to extinguish cars set aflame by vandals in the latest unrest in troubled French suburbs, police said.
The guard collapsed southwest of Paris in Trappes, one of about 300 cities and towns that were hit by three weeks of rioting, arson attacks or other violence that shook France earlier this month.
While the violence has abated, sporadic arson attacks continue, as they did before the rioting. Police say dozens of cars are torched each night on average in France's depressed suburbs where frustrations over unemployment and discrimination often run high, especially among youths from immigrant families.
On Sunday, youths in a public housing project in the eastern city of Colmar threw stones at firefighters called in to extinguish burning scooters, said Jean-Christophe Schneider, a regional spokesman. No one was injured, but the windshield of the rescuers' vehicle was smashed.
President Jacques Chirac, as part of renewed government efforts to combat the inequalities laid bare by the riots, meets Tuesday with business and labor leaders and national TV executives to discuss ways of hiring young people from poor neighborhoods and airing more programs that reflect France's racial diversity.
The rioting began Oct. 27 and peaked early this month with vandals torching more than 1,400 cars in one night. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency that is still in place. It allows authorities to impose curfews, conduct searches of homes and take other measures to prevent unrest if needed.
Several mosques have been attacked or vandalized -- in what Muslim leaders fear is a possible anti-immigrant backlash from the rioting.
On Sunday, authorities discovered racist and extremist slogans -- including one that said "defend yourself, France" -- spray-painted on a mosque being built in Saint-Etienne in the southeast.
Larbi Marchiche, who heads a Moroccan cultural association overseeing the mosque construction, called the vandalism "a provocation by brainless kids."
In a separate incident Sunday, attackers armed with two Molotov cocktails damaged a mosque in a low-income area in the eastern town of Fougeres.
Police are investigating the mosque attacks and the death of the high school guard. Police spokesman Alain Rahmouni said there were no arrests so far in the last case.
During the urban unrest, the worst in four decades in France, rioters torched more than 9,000 vehicles and several hundred buildings and repeatedly clashed with police. Several mosques, churches and a synagogue were also targeted.