French riots appear to abate as emergency measures take effect

Authorities remain vigilant as country's worst civil unrest in decades enter second week.

Police welcomed a drop in the number of cars burned overnight Thursday, a day after state-of-emergency measures were introduced, but said authorities would remain vigilant as the country's worst civil unrest in decades entered a second week. In a 14th straight night of unrest, 482 vehicles burned overnight Wednesday-Thursday, down from 617 the night before, police spokesman Patrick Hamon said. He called it "an encouraging sign that does not, however, diminish the police effort." One police officer was injured in the unrest. Some cities, including the Riviera resorts of Cannes and Nice, imposed curfews on minors. The government toughened its stance Wednesday against rioters, with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy saying local authorities have been told to deport foreigners convicted for involvement. The violence started Oct. 27 among youths in the northeastern Paris region of Seine-Saint-Denis angry over the accidental deaths of two teenagers, but grew into a nationwide insurrection of arson and clashes with police. The peak in car burnings - a barometer of unrest - came Sunday-Monday, with 1,408 vehicles torched. The number of incidents has dropped every night since then. Firefighters responded to 1,340 calls overnight, down 37 percent from the previous night, officials said. Hamon said the unrest, which had spread throughout France, now appeared to be concentrated in certain cities, including Toulouse, Lille, Lyon, Strasbourg and Marseille. Police took 203 people into custody overnight, Hamon said. Vandals set 11 cars ablaze and rammed a burning car into a primary school in the southern city of Toulouse, damaging its entrance, police said. Another school was set on fire in the eastern city of Belfort. Vandalism at two power stations caused blackouts in parts of Lyon, France's second largest city, police said. In neighboring Belgium, car burnings continued for a fifth night, with 15 vehicles torched, but the government stressed that attacks were isolated and could not be compared to widespread rioting across the border in France. Four people died in an apartment fire in the northern French city of Roubaix, but officials at the local prefecture said it was likely accidental, as the neighborhood had no recent incidents of unrest. A 12-day state of emergency went into effect Wednesday. The emergency decree empowers officials to put troublemakers under house arrest, ban or limit the movement of people and vehicles, confiscate weapons and close public spaces where gangs gather. For much of France - including the city of Paris - it had no perceptible effect. That such extraordinary measures were needed, however, has fueled national soul-seeking about France's failure to integrate its African and Muslim minorities - seen as a key reason behind the rioting. Rioters included the French-born children of immigrants from France's former colonies. The emergency decree paved the way for possible curfews in Paris, its suburbs and more than 30 other cities and towns nationwide if officials feel they are needed. By Wednesday evening, only a few municipalities and regions imposed them; Paris had not. In Nice, Cannes and 19 other towns in the Riviera region known as Alpes-Maritimes, including the resort of Antibes, minors were forbidden from being outdoors between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m without adult supervision. Certain bars in Nice and another town were ordered closed during those hours for 10 days. There have been no direct clashes between youths and police in the Riviera but unrest that started in the area on Friday had persisted in some towns for four nights. Arsonists set fire to a warehouse used by Nice-Matin newspaper in the town of Grasse, national police spokesman Patrick Reydy said. A total of 161 cars have been burned - about half in the Nice area - and nine buildings damaged across the Riviera region. Sarkozy, the interior minister who previously inflamed passions by referring to suburban troublemakers as "scum," said 120 foreigners have been convicted in connection with the violence. He ordered local authorities to expel them. Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen said French nationals of immigrant backgrounds should be stripped of their French citizenship and sent "back to their country of origin" if they committed crimes.