November 11, 2005

Paris police on high alert

By Kerstin Gehmlich

PARIS (Reuters) - Police went onto high alert in Paris on
Friday as France began a holiday weekend likely to test a
downward trend in two weeks of violence by youngsters angered
by conditions in rundown suburbs.

The country's worst unrest in four decades has receded
since President Jacques Chirac's government adopted emergency
measures including curfews on Tuesday, but there was a rise in
violent incidents in neighborhoods around the capital

Police said 463 vehicles were set ablaze across France, a
slight fall from the previous night, but the number of vehicles
torched in the areas around Paris rose from 84 to 111.

"This confirms the downward trend overall, with some
resistance in the Paris region," national police chief Michel
Gaudin told reporters. "This weekend we will exercise extra
vigilance in the Paris region."

The unrest has receded from a peak last Sunday night.
Police hope it will continue to drop during the Armistice Day
weekend, when offices close and city centers empty to mark the
end of World War One on November 11, 1918.

Residents of riot-torn suburbs were expected to march in
central Paris on Friday to call for an end to violence.

Paris police chief Pierre Mutz has banned the transport and
purchase of petrol in jerry cans after a string of arrests in
the capital of people carrying firebombs. He also says he fears
violence is being planned in the capital itself.

"Calls have been launched over the past few days on
Internet sites and by SMS messages urging meetings within Paris
and calling for 'violent actions'," Mutz's office said.


Gaudin said there were no specific threats this weekend but
police were monitoring Internet sites. Security was reinforced
around the Champs Elysees boulevard, where Chirac was due to
attend a remembrance ceremony.

The newspaper Le Parisien said that "for the police and the
government, these three days are a test."

Riots in the Paris area have been largely confined to the
suburban housing estates about an hour away from the city
center, and driven by youngsters angered by racism, high
unemployment, poor prospects and harsh treatment by police.

In the capital itself, life has continued as usual.

The urban violence fell after the emergency powers
announced by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin allowed local
officials to impose night curfews, though few have felt the
need to do so.

Police said 201 people had been detained overnight but
unrest was more scattered than on previous nights. Cars were
set on fire in Toulouse, Marseille, Strasbourg and Mulhouse.

Chirac, who has come under fire for his low profile during
the crisis, said on Thursday the government had to address
problems in the suburbs.

"We need to respond in a strong and quick way to the
unquestionable problems that many inhabitants of the deprived
neighborhoods surrounding our cities are facing," he said.

Finance Minister Thierry Breton said he had prepared a
series of proposals to create more jobs.

"We have put a lot of money into the suburbs over the past
20 years," he told Britain's Financial Times. "But obviously it
wasn't enough."