France extends anti-riot powers

PARIS, France (CNN) — The French Cabinet has approved emergency measures giving police more powers and allowing local officials to impose curfews in communities at risk of rioting after the nation endured a 12th night of unrest.

President Jacques Chirac said the new powers were “necessary to accelerate the return to calm.”

The government decree authorizing curfews will take effect at midnight Tuesday, The Associated Press reported. Other measures include allowing police to carry out raids for suspected stockpiling of weapons.

The emergency powers can last up to 12 days.

Chirac convened Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting to invoke a 1955 emergency law providing for curfews. The law was passed to curb violence during Algeria’s struggle for independence.

“We will now be able to act in a preventative manner to avoid these incidents,” Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said after the meeting.

“We will monitor, bit by bit, the evolution of events,” AP quoted him as saying. “For a period of 12 days, raids will be possible every time that we have a suspicion of a stockpiling of weapons.”

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told the National Assembly later on Tuesday that rioters would face two months in jail.

Villepin also said France faced a choice between “division or coming together.”

“We must be lucid: The Republic is at a moment of truth,” AP quoted Villepin as saying.

“What is being questioned is the effectiveness of our integration model.”

Curfews had already been imposed in some parts of Paris overnight Monday, although the intensity of violence that has hit nearly 300 towns across the country eased from the night before.

Rioters burned 1,173 cars in 226 towns nationwide overnight compared to 1,408 the previous night, AP quoted police as saying.

Meanwhile, 330 people were arrested, down from 395 the night before, National Police Chief Michel Gaudin told a news conference.

“The intensity of this violence is on the way down,” AP quoted him as saying.

In some of the worst violence, youths set fire to a bus in Toulouse after forcing the driver and passengers to leave, and clashes broke out when riot police arrived.

There were also reports of two schools being burned.

On Monday, de Villepin said 8,000 police — backed up by 1,500 reserve police — would be deployed, but he resisted calls to deploy troops.

The first death of the riots was reported on Monday.

Jean Jacques Le Chenadec, 61, a resident of the Paris suburb of Stains in the region of Seine-Saint-Denis, died from injuries suffered outside his apartment building Friday night, officials said.

He had been hospitalized in a coma since the attack.

The riots began after two youths of North African descent were electrocuted when they hid in an electric power station, believing they were being followed by police.

Since then, the rioting has spread from the Paris outskirts to inside the city limits as well as to poor neighborhoods across the country, shocking French society.

Rioters have hit towns such as Lille in the north to Rouen and Orleans in the west, the Mediterranean cities of Nice and Cannes, and Strasbourg and Colmar in the east, with youths attacking shops, schools and a police station.

Fears were also growing that the unrest could take hold elsewhere in Europe. Cars have been torched in both Brussels and Berlin, and police said they were investigating if they were copycat attacks. (Full story)

‘Delinquents behind damage’
In explaining the deployment of more police and invoking curfews, de Villepin told the private TF1 channel that “the response of the government is firmness.”

So far more than 1,200 arrests have been made.

The prime minister has blamed some of the violence on “criminal networks” but said much of it was carried out by “gangs of very young youths” who feel they have suffered discrimination and depravation.

Asked who was causing the violence, the prime minister responded, “They are delinquents.”

The rioting youths, many of whom are children of Muslim immigrants from Africa, have not given any demands. Many say they should simply have the same opportunities as other French nationals.

The unemployment rate for young people in some of the neighborhoods runs as high as 50 percent.

Young people in France, 57,000 of whom are on the rolls of the long-term unemployed, “must be given hope,” de Villepin said.

The government is looking to implement a new plan. The first point, he said, was to empower mayors who had seen their authority eroded so that they “have the authority to restore order.”

In addition, he said, training must be provided so that at age 14, children who no longer wish to continue in the school system can be trained to find jobs.

“I hope that we can meet them, assess their situation, and within three months offer a contract for training,” de Villepin said. “Everyone must find a solution.”

De Villepin said he had spoken with the families of the youths who had died and had promised them transparency in the investigation. He said that early indications were that police were not following the two.

Even before de Villepin’s announcement, officials in the riot-hit Paris suburban town of Raincy said they were preparing to enforce a nighttime curfew. (Paris has simmered)

Shock wave
“We are witnessing a sort of shock wave that is spreading across the country,” national police chief Gaudin said.

CNN correspondents said renegade youths have turned some neighborhoods into no-go zones, even in the daytime.

Opposition groups on the left, including the Green Party and the Communist Party, called for Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to resign after he called the rioters “scum” last week — language that inflamed the vandalism. (Watch French teens explain why they’re angry — 2:08)

The spreading violence has shocked national leaders and community residents into action, with mediators and religious leaders talking to the youths in an effort to stop the violence.

French Muslim groups also issued a fatwa against the violence, Reuters reported. (Full story)

The Union of French Islamic Organizations (UOIF) condemned the disorder and destruction the riots had caused.

Australia, Austria, Britain, Germany and Hungary advised their citizens to exercise care in France, joining the United States and Russia in warning tourists to stay away from violence-hit areas.

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