French police on alert in Paris
By Emmanuel Jarry
PARIS (Reuters) – Thousands of French police patrolled
central Paris on Saturday to enforce a ban on large gatherings
and prevent urban unrest reaching the heart of the capital,
including targets such as the Eiffel Tower.
Police said they had monitored calls for violence on
Internet sites and that potential targets included the Champs
Elysees and the Eiffel Tower.
In a sign of concern after violence rose slightly on the
16th night of clashes, regional authorities for the first time
declared a curfew for minors in France’s second city of Lyon
for Saturday and Sunday night.
Security forces used tear gas in Lyon on Saturday afternoon
to disperse around 50 youths in the city center who attacked
stalls and damaged vehicles, witnesses said.
Rioting by youngsters angered by unemployment, racism and
lack of opportunities has generally dropped in intensity since
President Jacques Chirac’s government announced emergency
measures on Tuesday which included curfews.
But the number of cars set ablaze by rioters rose slightly
again on Friday night, and two fire bombs were thrown at a
mosque in southern France, damaging the entrance.
Some 502 vehicles were set ablaze across France, compared
to 463 the previous night, and unrest hit areas including
Strasbourg, Marseille, Lyon and Lille. But there were fewer
incidents of violence in the Paris suburbs, police said.
“We’ve gone back to an almost normal situation in Ile de
France (greater Paris region),” national police service chief
Michel Gaudin told reporters.
But warning of violence in the capital, he said: “One can
easily imagine the places where we must be very vigilant.”
The Paris ban on large gatherings went into force at 10
a.m. (0900 GMT) and was due to run until 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) on
Sunday. The heart of the city has largely escaped the violence
that has plagued impoverished neighborhoods just outside the
Three thousand extra police were brought into Paris on
Friday, the Armistice holiday marking the end of World War One,
and riot police have been patrolling important areas, buildings
and suburban trains since then.
SCHOOL, SHOPS, MOSQUE ATTACKED
Police detained 206 people during the night when youngsters
attacked a primary school in Savigny-Le-Temple, southeast of
Paris, and destroyed its creche.
Two shops were destroyed in Rambouillet, southwest of
Paris, and a person on a scooter threw two fire bombs at a
mosque in the southern town of Carpentras before fleeing.
There was no major damage and no one was hurt but Chirac,
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the French Council of
the Muslim Faith (CFSM) swiftly condemned the attack.
“We firmly ask the authorities in particular to protect our
mosques, which seem to be becoming the target of violent
demonstrations and provocations,” the CFSM said.
Police said it was not clear if it was a racist act or an
act of provocation.
The top government regional official for the Lyon region
announced a curfew for minors on Saturday and Sunday nights
from 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) until 6 a.m. (0500 GMT) in Lyon and 10
communities near the city. Violence in the area rose overnight.
The unrest was triggered by the accidental deaths of two
youths who were electrocuted on October 27 as they hid in a
power substation just north of Paris while apparently fleeing
police. It later spread to other cities and towns across
Chirac and the government have been heavily criticized over
their handling of the rioting, involving white youths as well
as French citizens of Arab and African origin.