French rioting loses steam as law takes effect

Tensions have cooled somewhat in France today, with a drop of nearly half in the number of cars burned, police said.

Looters and vandals still defied a state of emergency however, with attacks on stores, a newspaper warehouse and a subway station.

The extraordinary 12-day state of emergency went into effect at midnight last night, giving special powers to authorities in Paris, its suburbs and more than 30 other cities following nearly two weeks of violence.

Arson attacks continued after dusk today, with a nursery school going up in flames in the southern city of Toulouse, RTL radio reported.

France’s emergency decree invoked a 50-year-old security law dating from France’s colonial war in Algeria. It 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.

Local officials could also choose to impose curfews. The Mediterranean city of Nice, as well as Cannes and Antibes, were among 21 municipalities in the Alpes-Maritime region affected by the curfew.

Separately, in Normandy, the Seine-Maritime department announced curfews for minors in four towns including Rouen and Le Havre.

73% of respondents in a poll published in today’s Le Parisien said they agreed with the curfew.

The unrest started October 27 as a localised riot in a north-east Paris suburb in anger over the accidental deaths of two teenagers, of Mauritanian and Tunisian descent, electrocuted while hiding from police in a power substation.

It has grown into a nationwide insurrection by disillusioned suburban youths, many of them French-born children of immigrants from France’s former territories such as Algeria.

France’s suburbs have long been neglected, and their young people complain of widespread discrimination and a lack of jobs.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said 120 foreigners have been convicted for roles in the violence, and called on local authorities to expel them.

“I have asked regional prefects to expel foreigners who were convicted - whether they have proper residency papers or not – without delay,” he said during the National Assembly’s question time.

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