DCSIMG

French prime minister pledges curfews and 9,500 police

Key points

• French PM prioritises restoration of order and threatens curfew policy

• First victim of riots as 61-year-old dies after being beaten by attacker

• Copycat riots spreading to Brussels and Berlin

Key quote

"Wherever it is necessary, prefects will be able to put in place a curfew under the authority of the interior minister, if they think it will be useful to permit a return to calm and ensure the protection of residents. That is our number-one responsibility" - DOMINIQUE DE VILLPAN

Story in full DOMINIQUE de Villepin, the French prime minister, said last night curfews would be enforced wherever they were needed to quell the riots on the streets of France, hours after it emerged the violence had claimed its first fatality.

The country's worst civil unrest in decades continued for a 12th night, as rioters in the southern city of Toulouse set fire to a bus after sundown and pelted police with petrol bombs and stones.

Outside the capital in Sevran, a school was set ablaze, while in another Paris suburb, Vitry-sur-Seine, youths threw petrol bombs at a hospital. No-one was injured.

With no sign of the violence abating, Mr de Villepin said curfews would be used and 9,500 police officers and gendarmes deployed to stop the rioting, which has spread across France. "Wherever it is necessary, prefects will be able to put in place a curfew under the authority of the interior minister, if they think it will be useful to permit a return to calm and ensure the protection of residents. That is our number-one responsibility," Mr de Villepin said last night.

On Sunday night, rioting by youths spread to 300 French towns and a man hurt in the violence died of his wounds - the first fatality in the unrest, police said. Cars were also set alight in Berlin and Brussels, in what German and Belgian police believe were copycat attacks.

As the urban violence involving mainly youths of African and Muslim origin spread, the French government faced the growing reality that it had been unable to stop the violence, despite massive police deployment and continued calls for calm.

Vandals burned more than 1,400 vehicles overnight on Sunday, and clashes around the country left 36 police injured, setting a new high for nightly arson and violence since rioting started on 27 October, France's national police chief, Michel Gaudin, told a news conference.

"This spread, with a sort of shockwave spreading across the country, shows up in the number of towns affected," said Mr Gaudin, who noted that the violence appeared to be sliding away from its flash point in the Parisian suburbs and worsening elsewhere.

Australia, Britain, Germany and Japan advised their citizens to exercise care in France, joining the United States, Russia and at least half a dozen other countries in warning tourists to stay away from violence-hit areas.

The riots' first victim was identified as Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec, 61, who died after being beaten by an attacker.

The man, a retired car industry worker, was trying to extinguish a rubbish bin fire on Friday at his housing project in the north-eastern suburb of Stains when an attacker caught him by surprise and beat him into a coma, police said.

"They have to stop this stupidity. It's going nowhere," his widow, Nicole, said, speaking of the rioting youths.

In the Paris suburban town of Raincy, the mayor was preparing to enact a night-time curfew. It was expected to go into force either last night or today, said one of his top aides.

Apparent copycat attacks spread outside France for the first time, with five cars torched outside the main Brussels railway station.

German police said yesterday that they were investigating whether those responsible for setting five cars ablaze in a working-class district of Berlin on Sunday were copying the French rioters.

The French police union, Action Police CFTC, urged the government to impose a curfew on all the riot-hit areas and call in the army to control the youths, many of whom are French-born citizens of Arab or African origin.

"Nothing seems to be able to stop the civil war that spreads a bit more every day across the whole country," the CFTC said in a statement. "The events we are living through now are without precedent since the end of the Second World War."

Last night, rioters in the southern French city of Toulouse set fire to a bus, and then pelted police with Molotov cocktails and stones, an official said.

The rioters stopped the bus and ordered the driver to get out, then set the vehicle on fire, said Francis Soutric, the chief of staff at the regional prefecture in Toulouse.

On Sunday violence was reported in Marseille, Saint-Etienne and Lille, where a Belgian television reporter was beaten up as he filmed.

Youths firing fine-grain birdshot injured ten police in a late-night clash in the southern Paris suburb of Grigny, national police spokesman Patrick Hamon said. Two needed hospital treatment, but their lives were not considered in danger. One was wounded in the neck, the other in the legs.

Churches were set ablaze in northern Lens and southern Sete, he said. In Colombes, in suburban Paris, youths pelted a bus with stones, sending a 13-month-old child to hospital with a head injury, Mr Hamon said. As many as 4,700 cars have been burned in France since the rioting began and 1,200 suspects were detained, at least temporarily.

Police chiefs said yesterday that gangs were deliberately confronting them and seemed intent on fighting them. They were extremely well-organised police said, using vantage points on high buildings to direct movements of fellow gang members on the ground via mobile phones.

France's biggest Muslim fundamentalist organisation, the Union for Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF), issued a fatwa, or religious decree, to try to halt the violence.

It forbade all those "who seek divine grace from taking part in any action that blindly strikes private or public property or can harm others".

But Dalil Boubakeur, the head of France's Muslim Council and rector of the moderate Grand Mosque of Paris, denounced the move as equating Islam with vandalism and blaming all Muslims for the rioting whether or not they were involved. Many influential grassroots Muslim groups in the riot-hit suburbs are closer to the UOIF than other national Muslim groups and enjoy more influence than local officials. France's Muslim community of five million is Western Europe's largest.

The French president, Jacques Chirac, in private comments more conciliatory than his warnings on Sunday that rioters would be caught and punished, acknowledged that France has failed to integrate the French-born children of Arab and black African immigrants in poor suburbs who have been taking part in the violence. He had been talking to Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who met the French leader yesterday.

She said Mr Chirac "deplored the fact that in these neighbourhoods there is a ghettoisation of youths of African or North African origin" and recognised "the incapacity of French society to accept them fully".

Mr Chirac said unemployment runs as high as 40 per cent in some suburban neighbourhoods, four times the national rate of just under 10 per cent, Ms Vike-Freiberga said.

Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, yesterday said his country was "not a dangerous country", nor was it racist.

Mr Douste-Blazy said he told his EU counterparts in Brussels that France had the situation under control.

"I reassured them that ... France is not a dangerous country. France is still a country where one can go," Mr Douste-Blazy said. France was "a republic that respects order and tolerance of others, respect and dialogue".

The unrest first broke out on 27 October in the run-down Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, after two teenagers of immigrant extraction were accidentally electrocuted after they hid in an electricity sub-station, apparently because they believed they were being pursued by police.

The authorities have denied that the youths were being chased and a full inquiry into the circumstances surrounding their deaths is under way.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the hardline interior minister, has also been accused of fanning the violence with incendiary language in which he called rioters "scum" and vowed to "clean up" rough estates.

Fear is now growing among French restaurant owners and shopkeepers that violence in poor suburbs of Paris and major cities will damage France's image and keep foreigners away from the world's top travel destination. Tourism makes up 7 per cent of the French economy.

 
 
 

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