Residents from riot-torn suburbs march in Paris, call to end unrest

Chirac acknowledges France must confront inequalities, discrimination that fueled riots.

paris burn out 88 (photo credit: )
paris burn out 88
(photo credit: )
Residents from riot-torn suburbs were to march in Paris on Friday - Armistice Day, marking the end of WWI - waving white handkerchiefs to call for an end to more than two weeks of violence. President Jacques Chirac acknowledged Thursday that France must confront the inequalities and discrimination that fueled the unrest. The violence continued to abate on its 15th night Thursday-Friday under state-of-emergency measures and heavy policing, with fewer skirmishes and fewer cars burned, national police spokeswoman Catherine Casteran said. Police, meanwhile, suspended eight officers, two of them suspected of beating a man detained during the riots. "Things are calming," Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said Thursday on France-2 television. "But that doesn't mean it won't restart." Chirac had kept largely silent about France's worst unrest since the 1968 student-worker uprising: in two weeks of violence, he had spoken publicly on the crisis only once. "There is a need to respond strongly and rapidly to the undeniable problems faced by many residents of underprivileged neighborhoods around our cities," Chirac told a news conference. "Whatever our origins, we are all the children of the Republic, and we can all expect the same rights." Finance Minister Thierry Breton said the government was considering relaxing restrictions on highly regulated service industries and business startups to help create jobs in poor suburbs, in an interview published Friday. "We have put a lot of money into the suburbs over the past 20 years," Breton was quoted as saying by The Financial Times. "But obviously it wasn't enough. We need to work on how to create more jobs and growth in those areas." The unrest, which started among youths in the northeastern suburban Paris town of Clichy-sous-Bois angry over the accidental electrocution deaths of two teenagers grew into a nationwide wave of arson and nightly clashes between rioters armed with firebombs and police retaliating with tear gas. The crisis has led to collective soul-searching about France's failure to integrate its African and Muslim minorities. Anger about high unemployment and discrimination has fanned frustration among the French-born children of immigrants from France's former colonies. One 20-year-old who grew up in Clichy-sous-Bois said he had stopped looking for a job and joined the rampage. "Maybe I burnt cars, I know it's not very nice of me, but to be honest, I am happy that things heated up everywhere to let everybody know that we are sick of it," said Ahmed Zbeul, hanging around a suburban courthouse to support friends on trial for theft. Residents representing about 160 suburban communities were to assemble at 3 p.m. (1400GMT) on Friday at the Peace Wall on the Champs de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower, for a mass peace march. We "want an immediate end to the violence and for peace to return to the neighborhoods where our parents, brothers and sisters have lived for the past two weeks in a climate of uncertainty," the march's organizers, Banlieus Respects, said in a statement. Sarkozy, the interior minister, vowed to dismantle gangs and bands of drug traffickers that, he said, make up a tiny minority but poison everyone's lives. Sarkozy told France-2 television he stood by comments he made referring to suburban troublemakers as "scum," but he was referring to a minority, not "all youths." The government has toughened its stance against rioters; Sarkozy said local authorities have been instructed to deport foreigners convicted of involvement. The president of anti-racism group SOS-Racisme said it had filed a complaint to the Council of State, France's highest administrative body, calling Sarkozy's proposal illegal. The council had 48 hours to respond. In the northern Paris suburb of La Courneuve, two police officers suspected of dealing "unwarranted blows" to a man taken in for questioning, the Interior Ministry said. The officers were suspended along with six others suspected of witnessing the incident Monday. The victim had "superficial lesions" on the forehead and the right foot, the ministry said. A 12-day state of emergency went into effect Wednesday, paving the way for cities to impose curfews if they deem it necessary. But most regional governments have not introduced them. The Mediterranean resort region of Alpes-Maritime imposed curfews for minors in 21 towns; a day later, the measure was lifted Thursday in seven of them, including Cannes. In Paris and much of the rest of the country the state of emergency has had no perceptible effect. So far, Justice Minister Pascal Clement said, two people have been arrested for violating curfews. National Police Chief Michel Gaudin noted a "very sharp drop" in acts of violence from Wednesday-Thursday, with 482 vehicles burned - down from 617 the night before. At the height of the violence last weekend, rioters torched nearly 3,000 cars in two nights. The number of incidents has dropped every night since. Vandals had burned 325 vehicles overnight Thursday-Friday as of 3:30 a.m. (0230GMT), the national police said. Police have made more than 3,000 arrests over two weeks, the interior minister said Thursday. A total of 364 people, including 73 minors, have been imprisoned, said the justice minister.