France brings in curfew to curb riots

Prime Minister Villepin has warned that curfew would be imposed in the city suburbs to curb the raging riots.

world Updated: Nov 08, 2005 15:43 IST

President Jacques Chirac convened an emergency cabinet meeting on Tuesday to empower authorities to impose curfews on lawless suburbs after rioters rampaged across France for the 12th straight night.

Police reported 330 arrests and said youths burned 1,173 vehicles overnight. Twelve officers were slightly injured and some reported being fired at, but not hit, with buckshot.

The unrest is the worst the country has experienced since student revolts in 1968.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said late on Monday the cabinet would invoke by decree a 60-year-old law first brought in as an unsuccessful attempt to quell an insurrection in Algeria, at a time when the north African country was a French colony.

Villepin, speaking on national television, said regional authorities would be given the power to impose curfews "where necessary".

The measure -- a state of emergency for areas around cities and towns -- would ban night time movements of people and vehicles and allow police to set up roadblocks around certain zones.

Government ministers were to adopt the measure by decree in the cabinet meeting early on Tuesday and it would be applicable from Wednesday, Villepin said.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was to meet top regional authorities later Tuesday to discuss how the decision would be implemented, his office said.

The government has ruled out an army intervention to stop the violence, which spread to some 300 towns over the weekend, but said that 1,500 police and gendarme reservists would be deployed as reinforcements for 8,000 officers already on the ground.

A town mayor near the epicentre of the riots, in the northeastern Paris suburb of Raincy, already imposed a curfew from Monday to "avoid a tragedy".

Suburban youths quoted by Le Parisien newspaper said the emergency measures "won't change anything". "This isn't going to solve things," one said. "More repression means more destruction... more cops is just provocation."

The escalating violence claimed its first life on Monday as a 61-year-old man, who was beaten into a coma by a hooded assailant outside of his home north of Paris last Friday, died in hospital.

Overnight, rioters burned down a gymnasium in the Paris region.

In the northern city of Lille a creche at a school was torched in a previously tranquil working class neighbourhood.

A mob in the eastern city of Strasbourg pelted a team from German television channel Suedwestrundfunk and forced them to flee.

And in Auxerre, southeast of the French capital, 15 people were hospitalised with breathing problems after a blaze in a cellar forced them to evacuate a building.

Northeast of Paris in Seine-Saint-Denis, the region where the trouble began, the violence simmered on but authorities said the situation was calmer than on previous nights, with three times fewer calls made to the fire services.

Youths predominantly from France's large Arab-Muslim minority have rampaged through out-of-town neighbourhoods since October 27, torching cars, businesses and public buildings and attacking police officers.

The unrest, sparked by the accidental deaths of two teenagers of African origin who were electrocuted in an electrical sub-station in a northern Paris suburb while fleeing a police identity check, set off a chain of copycat rioting by disaffected youths complaining of poverty and discrimination.

The effective state of emergency to be decreed can last for 12 days, beyond which it can only continue after a parliamentary vote. The last time it was used was in 1984, to put down violence on France's Pacific Ocean territory of New Caledonia.

The French prime minister also promised more funding to improve housing and education in the run-down neighbourhoods of France's cities where the troubles fomented.

Many of the youths involved in the violence are from families that immigrated from Algeria after it won its bloody battle for independence, as well as from other former French colonial territories in Africa.

French media Tuesday were sceptical that curfews would stop the unrest.

The financial daily La Tribune said the measures were necessary but "they are not -- by a long shot -- sufficient."

The left-wing daily Liberation called Chirac's rule "a tragic farce" for resorting to a law created in 1955 to cope with a full-fledged war.

The planned curfews were cautiously welcomed, though, by the main opposition Socialists, but the Green Party rejected them as "totally disproportionate".

As a measure of the seriousness of the troubles, many countries around the world issued travel warnings to their citizens about travelling through areas of France, among them the United States, Japan, Australia, Britain, Germany and Russia.

First Published: Nov 08, 2005 08:43 IST