November 4, 2005

Violence in Paris suburbs sparks copy-cat unrest

By Victor Tonelli

EPINAY-SUR-SEINE, France (Reuters) - Violence erupted again
in poor suburbs of Paris where youths torched buildings and
dozens of cars and sporadic unrest spread in the early hours of
Saturday to at least three other French cities.

In a potentially worrying development for Prime Minister
Dominique de Villepin's beleaguered government, police said
more cars were set alight outside the greater Paris area than
in the capital's suburbs, the epicenter of riots for more than
a week.

"The general impression is that the situation in the
greater Paris area is the same as last night but there are some
scattered incidents elsewhere," a police official told Reuters.

Rioting by youths, many of whom are Muslims of North
African and black African origin, has partly been stoked by
their frustration at high unemployment and the perception they
lack economic opportunities.

Out of a total of 152 vehicles reported burned nationally,
less than half were in the greater Paris region, with about a
dozen or more cars set alight in each of Strasbourg, in east of
France, Rennes in the west, and Toulouse in southwestern

Police said minor incidents were reported in provinces
elsewhere in the country but were inclined to blame such
disturbances on copy-cat violence before the weekend.

Rioters in Paris suburbs appeared more inclined to harass
police than clash with them head on, an official said.

Firemen rushed to put out blazes in the Paris suburb of Val
d'Oise after 10 cars and two buildings, one a bakery, were set
alight late on Friday, while others in Seine-Saint-Denis
battled to extinguish fires at two warehouses.


The latest outbreak of violence came despite a high-profile
police presence. About 1,300 officers were deployed in
Seine-Saint-Denis, the area worst hit in the disturbances and
where the violence first began last week after two teenagers of
African origin died while fleeing police.

More officers patrolled other suburbs where unrest had
broken out, national police said, adding that the units were
more mobile than previously.

The violence that began in Seine-Saint-Denis has escalated
this week and spread to a few other towns in France even before
Saturday -- Rouen in northern France, Dijon in the east and
Marseille in the south were all affected overnight between
Thursday and Friday.

This has put mounting pressure on the government to restore
order without alienating minority and underprivileged groups
but Villepin's calls for calm have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Religious leaders will lend their support to government
efforts to cool tensions with Catholic, Protestant and Muslim
leaders planning a silent march on Saturday in
Aulnay-sous-Bois, one of the violence-hit suburbs.

Squabbling within the government about how to tackle the
unrest has now been papered over, with Villepin and his bitter
political rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, joining
forces to stress the need to balance firmness and justice.

Villepin met about 15 young people from riot-hit Paris
suburbs late on Friday to discuss possible ways to restore

"I think he appreciated this meeting and wanted to learn
things. It was a very good initiative, he is really looking to
solve the problems," Anyss, an 18-year-old in his final year of
high school in Seine-Saint-Denis, said after the meeting.

However, the opposition remained critical, with the
Socialists attacking the government's response.

"Your government bears part of the responsibility for these
events. It is now up to you to take full stock of the crisis,"
Socialist leaders said in letter to Villepin on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Paule Bonjean, Helene Fontanaud)