Youths burn cars in scattered New Year's Eve unrest in France

Police especially cautious because of wave of rioting and car-torchings that broke out in October.

france riots 298.88 (photo credit: )
france riots 298.88
(photo credit: )
Youths threw stones at firefighters and burned cars in scattered unrest during New Year's Eve celebrations in France, where police were mobilized to prevent a repeat outburst of rioting that broke out this fall. About 25,000 French police were on alert for the holiday. Every New Year's Eve, youths set several hundred cars ablaze as festivities get out of hand. Police were especially cautious this time because of the wave of rioting and car-torchings that broke out for three weeks starting in late October. A state of emergency imposed during the rioting is still in effect. In a pre-dawn tally Sunday, the Interior Ministry reported 249 vehicles burned throughout the country, including 84 in the Ile-de-France region that includes Paris. Police took 121 people into custody throughout France. A small fire broke out at a school in Toulouse, in southwest France, and was quickly put out, local authorities said. In Nice on the French Riviera, firefighters were pelted with stones when they responded to an anonymous phone alert, officials said. In the nearby Var department of southern France, youths also threw rocks at firefighters in a troubled neighborhood of La-Seine-sur-Mer, local authorities said. Outside Paris in the suburb of Argenteuil, a small fire was reported at a cultural center. Youths torched several cars in the Paris area. A wave of rioting broke out Oct. 27 in a poor Paris suburb after two youths who believed police were chasing them hid in a power substation and died of electrocution. The unrest spread throughout the country in impoverished suburban housing projects that are home to many immigrants from North and West Africa and their French-born children. At the peak, youths incinerated 1,408 vehicles in a single night. President Jacques Chirac spoke of the unrest during his annual New Year's Eve television address and urged the French to do more to fight racism and a lack of opportunities in poor neighborhoods - problems that fed frustrations among young rioters. "Diversity is part of our history: It is a resource," he said. "It is an asset for our future." Chirac also promised to do more to fight crime and violence. Burning cars is common in troubled French neighborhoods - dozens of vehicles are set afire on an average night. The figure has risen to about 300 on New Year's Eve in recent years, according to the Interior Ministry. About 25,000 police are to be deployed overnight - "a few more" than in past years, Catherine Casteran, a spokeswoman for the national police, said Friday. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy met with police Saturday afternoon and said that officials had decided to mobilize helicopters because they played a decisive role in stopping the autumn riots. At the time, helicopters equipped with spotlights and video cameras were used to track bands of marauding youths who sped from attack to attack in cars and on motorbikes. "The orders I have given are very strict," Sarkozy said. "When there are delinquent acts there will be arrests. Those guilty must be accountable for their acts."