President Jacques Chirac has announced a series of symbolic and practical measures to promote racial integration and national solidarity after 18 days of riots in France's suburbs.
M. Chirac, in a nationwide TV and radio address, announced the creation of a civil volunteer force for unemployed youngsters. He also called on the media - and especially television stations - to make sure that France's racial minorities become more visible on the nation's TV screens.
While condemning the rioting by multi-racial youth gangs that has destroyed 9,000 cars and dozens of schools and other public buildings over the past two weeks, M. Chirac promised youngsters of all races that the nation's commitment to egalité and fraternité would become a reality.
Young people, whatever their racial origins, whatever the area they lived in, were "all sons and daughters of the Republic", M. Chirac said last night.
The violence of recent days, while wholly unacceptable, showed that there was a "profound malaise" in France's model of racial and social integration, the President said. This could only be solved in the long run by an effort by all French people to banish the everyday racism and discrimination of the "insulting look or word".
M. Chirac also promised to hold a discussion with employers' associations to demand greater efforts to integrate young people of Arab and African origin in the work-place.
At the same time, the French parliament will today extend the country's "state of emergency" for three months despite clear signs that 18 days of suburban riots are coming to an end.
The emergency measures have permitted curfews to be declared by local officials in 50 towns or districts and give police draconian powers to search homes of suspected trouble-makers.
Critics suggested that President Chirac's radio and TV address was as much aimed at propping up his own sagging authority as calming tempers in the deprived, multi-racial suburbs of French cities and towns. An opinion poll at the weekend suggested that only 29 per cent of French people believe that M. Chirac could play any useful part in solving the problems of high unemployment and violent gang culture among the young people of the poor suburbs.
Sunday night and the early hours of yesterday morning were the quietest for days, with only 284 cars burned in France (compared with 1,400 at the height of the unrest last week). Almost 9,000 cars have now been destroyed since the riots began, as well as dozens of buses, gymnasiums, sports centres and schools. The cost of the destruction is estimated at €200m (£134.5m).
As the riots petered out, French officials began a charm offensive on the foreign press yesterday in an attempt to correct what they believe has often been an inflated picture of the unrest abroad. French ambassadors have been instructed to brief journalists all over the world.
The Finance Minister, Thierry Breton, invited a group of Paris correspondents to lunch to try to put the riots "in perspective". He pointed out that more than 200 people died in the Los Angeles riots of 1992. Only one death has been attributed directly to the two weeks on unrest in France.
The social and economic problems of the suburbs surrounding French cities should not be exaggerated, he said. The main problem was a lack of local jobs, because the suburbs had been turned into "dormitories".Reuse content