Sarkozy pledges inquiry into deaths that sparked riots

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The Independent Online

France was holding its breath last night, hoping that riots in poor, multi-racial suburbs north of Paris had subsided without igniting wider violence.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, returning from a trip to China, called for severe punishment for the rioters who had fired light hunting-guns at police on Monday, injuring 82 officers. However, he also tried to calm tempers by promising an independent, judicial investigation into the source of the unrest: the deaths of two teenagers in an accident with a police car on Sunday.

An army of 1,000 police officers moved once again last night into the town of Villiers-le-Bel, 12 miles north of Paris. A huge police presence on Tuesday night, led by the Prime Minister Francois(cedilla on c) Fillon in person, helped to reduce the violent protests to a handful of car burnings.

A few similar incidents were reported once again last night but none of the mass confrontations with police seen on Monday.

To the relief of the French government, there was once again little sign of the violent protests spreading to other parts of the Paris suburbs, and other French cities, as they did two years ago. A number of cars were burned and a library set alight in a poor district of Toulouse on Tuesday. No serious incidents were reported elsewhere in France in the early part of last night.

New, independent evidence emerged yesterday, however, to contradict the police version of Sunday's collision in Villiers-le-Bel. An initial Police report said that mini-bike had shot out of side-street and collided with the patrol car, which was traveling slowly. Severe damage to the police car had been caused by vandals after the crash, the report said.

An amateur video, filmed in the minutes after the crash, presented to the press yesterday, showed that the front of the police car was wrecked in the crash itself. This suggested that the patrol car had been driving at high speed down a narrow, winding suburban street.

President Sarkozy, meeting the families of the dead boys yesterday morning, promised that an an examining magistrate would be appointed to study what had really happened. An investigation was later opened into the "manslaughter by persons unknown" of Moshin Cehhouli, 15, and Lakami Samoura, 16.