Rioting spreads beyond Paris suburbs

Rioters torch 900 vehicles; over 200 arrested overnight.

paris riots 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
paris riots 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Marauding youths torched nearly 900 vehicles, stoned paramedics and burned a nursery school in a ninth night of violence that spread from Paris suburbs to towns around France, police said Saturday. Authorities arrested more than 200 people overnight - an unprecedented sweep since the unrest began. It was by far the worst night of car-burning; a day earlier, 500 vehicles were torched. In a particularly malevolent turn, youths in the eastern Paris suburb of Meaux prevented paramedics from evacuating a sick person from a housing project, pelting rescuers with rocks and torching the awaiting ambulance, an Interior Ministry official said. A nursery school was badly burned in Acheres, west of Paris, with part of the roof caved in. Childrens' photos were still stuck to blackened walls, and melted plastic toys littered the floor. The town had previously escaped the violence. Some residents demanded that the army be deployed, or that citizens band together to protect their neighborhoods. At the school gate, Mayor Alain Outreman tried to calm tempers. "We are not going to start militias," he said. "You would have to be everywhere." Unrest, mainly arson, was reported in the northern city of Lille, in Toulouse in the southwest and in the Normandy city of Rouen. It was the second night that troubles spread beyond the difficult Paris suburbs, which have high unemployment and large immigrant populations. In Suresnes, a normally calm town just west of the capital, troublemakers burned 44 cars in a lot. On Saturday morning, more than 1,000 people took part in a silent march in one of the worst-hit suburbs, Aulnay-sous-Bois, filing past burned-out cars to demand calm. One banner read: "No to violence." Car torchings have become a daily fact in France's tough suburbs, with about 100 each night. Police reported 897 vehicles burned throughout France from Friday night to Saturday morning, most of them in the Paris area. Arrests were up sharply, with 253 people detained overnight, all but 20 of them in the Paris region, as police deployed in smaller teams and used a helicopter to track bands of youths going from attack to attack in cars and on motorbikes, said a national police spokesman, Patrick Hamon. By comparison, police had made 78 arrests in the Paris region the previous night, he said. The violence - sparked after the Oct. 27 accidental electrocution of two teenagers who believed police were chasing them in Seine-Saint-Denis - has laid bare discontent simmering in France's poor suburbs ringing big cities. Those areas are home to large populations of African Muslim immigrants and their children living in low-income housing projects marked by high unemployment, crime and despair. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin oversaw a Cabinet meeting Saturday to evaluate the situation. The persistence of the violence prompted the American and Russian governments to advise citizens visiting Paris to steer clear of the suburbs, where authorities were struggling to gain control of the worst rioting in at least a decade. In Torcy, east of the capital, looters set fire to a youth center and a police station, which were gutted, city hall said. An incendiary device was tossed at the wall of a synagogue in Pierrefitte, northwest of Paris, where electricity went out after a burning car damaged an electrical pole. A police officer at the Interior Ministry operations center said bullets were fired into a vandalized bus in Sarcelles, north of Paris. The officer, not authorized to speak publicly, asked not to be named. Firefighters battled a furious blaze at a carpet warehouse in Aubervilliers, on the northern edge of Paris. "I'm not able to sleep at night because you never know when a fire might break out," said Mammed Chukri, 36, a Kurdish immigrant from northern Iraq living near the warehouse. "I have three children and I live in a five-story building. If a fire hit, what would I do?"