French mayor declares curfew as rioting spreads

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The Independent Online

Amid fears that the violence was spiralling out of control, French authorities announced that a record number of 1,408 cars had been set on fire across France ­ including 426 in Paris ­ on the 11th consecutive night of rioting on Sunday. The first fatality of the riots was also reported. Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec, 61, from the Paris suburb of Stains, had been in a coma since being beaten by youths on Friday as he and a companion were putting out a fire in a rubbish bin outside their block of flats.

As further unrest was reported in the south-western city of Toulouse, where a bus and 20 cars were burned, police said a school had been set alight and petrol bombs hurled at a hospital in suburbs on the outskirts of Paris. Petrol bombs were also thrown at a primary school in the eastern city of Strasbourg, but no injuries were reported in any of the attacks.

M. de Villepin announced police reinforcements to deal with the unrest in suburbs inhabited mainly by African immigrants. A total of 9,500 police and paramilitary officers will now be patrolling the country's hotspots. The Prime Minister said he would seek cabinet approval today for prefects to introduce curfews to curb violence.

"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," he said in a television interview. He said he was acting under a 1955 law invoked to declare a state of emergency during the Algerian war.

The Socialist mayor of Noisy-le Grand, Michel Pajon, called for the army to be brought in. "I am sounding the alarm," he said. "You can't let things get as bad as this." He said he recognised that for a Socialist to ask for military intervention was "an absolutely unimaginable admission of failure". M. de Villepin said he did not plan to bring in the military at this stage.

The scale of the problem France faces was highlighted by a police report which revealed that in the first 10 months of this year 28,000 cars were set on fire across France. Residents of Strasbourg, Lyons and other cities with banlieues chaudes (hot suburbs) have become used to the Saturday night fever. But the rioting that has struck the Paris suburbs since 27 October has led to fears of another May 1968 or of a French "intifada".

It was triggered by the electrocution of two teenagers who took refuge in an electricity substation believing police were chasing them. A third youth who was badly burnt, Muhittin Altun, called for an end to the violence in a statement from hospital last night.

French authorities said that on Sunday night, 36 police were injured and 395 people detained. In addition to Paris, where schools, car dealerships and carpet factories in the north-eastern suburbs were razed, serious unrest was reported near Marseilles and Toulouse.

The flames have spread to almost all corners of France: Noel Mamère, the mayor of Bègles outside Bordeaux, said there had been small-scale attacks in his town since Friday night.

Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister and a Socialist party leader, said that in his town of Grand-Quevilly, several cars had been set on fire.

M. Fabius said the government appeared to have been "overwhelmed". He criticised as inadequate a statement by President Jacques Chirac, who had appeared at the side of M. de Villepin on Sunday, in which the head of state pledged that "the last word must be with the law". M. Fabius said the President, who has kept a low profile, had the appearance of a man who had just "seen the light". The Justice Minister, Michel Clement, promised a tough response, saying 83 people had been jailed.

The crisis has been playing itself out against a heightened rivalry for the presidency, with M. de Villepin and Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister, jockeying to replace the ailing M. Chirac in 2007.

M. Sarkozy provoked universal criticism for warning that the racaille (" scum") on the estates should be "hosed down", in remarks seen as contributing to the violence. M. de Villepin, asked last night what he thought about the remark, said "every word counts" and that at this time "we should be rallying together".

The Union of Islamic Organisations of France said: "It is strictly forbidden for any Muslim ... to take part in any action that strikes blindly at private or public property or that could threaten the lives of others."

In apparent copycat attacks, five cars were set on fire outside the main railway station in Brussels.