France imposes curfews as rioting spreads
By Timothy Heritage
PARIS (Reuters) – France announced plans on Monday to
impose curfews on rundown suburbs hit by violence to try to
halt almost two weeks of unrest in which one man has been
killed and thousands of cars have been torched.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin rejected demands to
call out the army but promised a firm line against rioters
after violence hit a new level on Sunday night, prompting
warnings that the unrest could damage investment and tourism in
As Villepin outlined his plans on Monday evening, violence
erupted in a suburb of the southwestern city of Toulouse, where
police said youths set fire to a bus and 21 cars.
At least two cars were set ablaze near Lille in the north,
Reuters reporters said. Fourteen cars were on fire in the
Yvelines district west of Paris and 17 in Seine-Saint-Denis
north of the capital, police said.
The U.S. embassy in Paris issued a new warning to Americans
traveling in France to be careful following Sunday night’s
violence, in which more than 1,400 cars were torched, 36 police
were hurt and three schools and two churches were attacked.
Under growing pressure from opponents to end the violence,
Villepin told TF1 television: “Wherever it is necessary,
prefects will be able to impose a curfew.”
He said the cabinet would take the required steps to
empower the prefects under a 1955 law at a special cabinet
meeting on Tuesday called by President Jacques Chirac, but did
not say how long and where the curfews would apply.
He said 1,500 police and gendarmes would be brought in to
back up the 8,000 officers already deployed in areas hit by
unrest that began in a poor Paris suburb on October 27. He also
promised to accelerate urban renewal programs.
But dismissing growing calls for army intervention, he
said: “We have not reached that point.”
PRESSURE MOUNTS ON GOVERNMENT
The conservative government has struggled to formulate a
response that could halt the unrest, which was sparked by
frustration among ethnic minorities over racism, unemployment
and harsh treatment by police.
The unrest, involving poor whites as well as French-born
citizens of Arab or African origin complaining of racism, began
after the accidental electrocution of two youths fleeing police
outside Paris and has spread to other towns and cities.
The violence spread further on Sunday even though one of
France’s Muslim organizations, reacting to official suggestions
that Islamist militants might be orchestrating some of the
protests, issued a fatwa against the unrest.
The first fatality in the wave of violence was Jean-Jacques
Le Chenadec, who died on Monday after being beaten on Friday in
the northern Paris suburb of Stains. Le Chenadec had been in a
coma since Friday.
Several hundred people gathered in Stains to pay tribute to
him. Some laid flowers at the spot where he was attacked and
others wore stickers saying: “Together, let’s say no to
In the most serious incident on Sunday, youths at a housing
estate in Grigny, south of Paris, ambushed police with rocks,
petrol bombs and guns. Two policemen were seriously hurt.
“This is real, serious violence. It’s not like the previous
nights. I am very concerned because this is mounting,” said
Bernard Franio, head of police for Essonne, south of Paris.
“There were burned cars all over the place and helicopters
circling overhead,” said Yvonne Roland, a Grigny resident.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy’s tough line has been
widely criticized but Chirac called on Sunday for order to be
restored in comments that appeared to endorse Sarkozy.
THREAT TO TOURISM AND INVESTMENT
The United States has warned citizens to avoid areas hit by
unrest and other countries have urged visitors to show caution.
There have been some acts of arson abroad, including cars set
on fire in Brussels and Berlin, but riots have not spread
“Nothing seems to be able to stop the civil war that
spreads a bit more every day across the whole country,” the
Action Police CFTC union said. “The events we’re living through
now are without precedent since the end of the Second World
But national police service chief Michel Gaudin refused to
be drawn into comparisons between this surge of violence and
protests that shook France in 1968.
The head of France’s main employers’ group expressed
concern about the impact the unrest could have on tourism and
investment in France, where sluggish growth is stifling job
“France’s image has been deeply damaged,” Laurence Parisot
told Europe 1 radio.
(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan and Eric Faye in
Paris, Anna Willard and Franck Prevel in Grigny, and Yvonne
Bell in Lille)