France in flames as riots wreak havoc
• French President Jacques Chirac promises arrests and punishment
• Last night was 11th night of violence in France
• Ten riot police injured south of Paris while fighting 250 to 300
"The law must have the last word," - French President Jacques Chirac
Story in full FRENCH President Jacques Chirac has promised arrest, trials and punishment for those sowing "violence or fear" as an 11th night of urban violence erupted across France last night, with police and rioters clashing south of Paris and in other towns.
Ten riot police were wounded, two seriously, in fighting with 250 to 300 youths in Grigny, south of the capital. Officials believe rioters may have fired with a hunting rifle. Across the country, rioters pelted Molotov cocktails at cars and a school, and firefighters in some areas worked under police escort.
The previous night, youths set ablaze nearly 1,300 vehicles and torched businesses, schools and symbols of French authority, including post offices and provincial police stations. The violence spread to Paris for the first time.
"The law must have the last word," Chirac said in his first public address on the violence. France is determined "to be stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear, and they will be arrested, judged and punished."
The president, who spoke after a security meeting with top ministers, said France would promote "respect for all, justice and equal opportunities."
"But there is a precondition, a priority, I repeat," Chirac said. "That is the restoring of security and public order."
The president spoke as trouble flared from Saint-Etienne, in southern France, to Rouen, in the north, and 24 hours after the violence had reached new levels.
The rioting, which until now has been concentrated in African and Arab communities in Paris's working class suburbs, spread to central Paris on Saturday night, with cars burnt in the Place de la Republique and other streets in the 17th arrondisement.
Violence also broke out in Strasbourg in the east, Toulouse in the south-west, Nantes in the west and Avignon, Nice and Cannes in the south. In the northern town of Evreux in Normandy, at least 30 cars and three shops were set ablaze.
Gangs threw petrol bombs at a local school and four police officers were injured in clashes with youths, some of them reportedly armed with baseball bats.
"This is too much. Stop! Stop. Do something else, but not this, not violence," sobbed a woman in Evreux.
"My wife's out of a job now," fumed another resident. "I've two kids, a house to pay for and a car loan. What do I do now?"
In Paris last night, police helicopters could be heard overhead as officers - boosted in number by 2,300 from neighbouring regions - patrolled the capital in an attempt to pursue and identify those responsible for the attacks. In some areas of the city night buses were cancelled as a precautionary measure.
The mayhem, which began as isolated violence in one impoverished Paris suburb, has developed into a nationwide crisis, which many are describing as France's worst civil unrest since May 1968.
Warnings by Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, that arsonists would be severely punished with tough prison sentences failed to deter rioters as youths armed with petrol bombs set fire to buildings, vehicles and other targets.
Police reported that on Saturday night 1,296 vehicles had been set ablaze, and so far 349 people had been arrested.
Authorities say drug traffickers and Islamic militants are helping to organise the unrest, via the internet and mobile phones, among the black North African immigrant communities who make up a significant part of many poor suburban housing estates.
Six youths were detained after setting up what was described as a "petrol bomb factory" in a disused police building south of the capital.
Government aides said Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, would make "concrete proposals" on tackling tough neighbourhoods this week.
The violence has tarnished France's image abroad, forcing Mr de Villepin to cancel a trip to Canada, while Russia and the United States have warned their citizens to avoid the troubled suburbs. The Foreign Office has warned British tourists to "exercise extreme care in the affected areas".
Neighbouring Germany also has a large immigrant population, including more than three million Muslims - most of Turkish origin.
Wolfgang Bosbach, the deputy leader of the conservative Christian Democrats in the German parliament, told a Sunday newspaper: "There are differences between the situation in France and here, but we should not be under the illusion that similar events could not happen in Germany."
In Italy, Romano Prodi, the opposition leader, called on the government to take urgent action, telling reporters: "We have the worst suburbs in Europe. I don't think things are so different from Paris. It's only a question of time."
The unrest was triggered on 27 October by the deaths of two teenagers of African origin, Bouna Traore, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, who were accidentally electrocuted in the rundown Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois after hiding in an electricity sub-station. Locals say they were being pursued by police after a robbery, but French authorities have denied this.
Dalil Boubakeur, the head of the French Muslim Council and leader of the largest mosque in Paris, urged a change in tone from the government. "What I want from the authorities, from Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, the prime minister and senior officials, are words of peace," he said.
Mr Sarkozy has been widely criticised for his "warlike" language in which he referred to rioters as "scum" and vowed to "clean up" the suburbs.
The ambitious Mr Sarkozy has built his political profile around law and order issues and the current unrest may damage his bid for the 2007 presidential elections.
But a poll published yesterday indicated his public image was holding up, even if many disapproved of his language.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West