French rioting spreads

Authorities ponder solution

hundreds are detained


PARIS -- Nighttime rioting around French public housing developments continued to rage early today, spreading to the outskirts of more cities and leaving the authorities frustrated by their inability to stop what many are calling France's worst civil unrest since the 1968 student revolts.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin met with eight of his ministers and a top Muslim official yesterday, trying to find a way to break the chain of violent events.

But the violence continued, with two schools destroyed in the Essonne region south of Paris and more cars going up in flames. More than 1,000 vehicles and many buildings have been destroyed in the violence that began Oct. 27, with nearly 900 vehicles reported burned Friday night alone.

Most of the unrest remained confined to immigrant neighborhoods surrounding Paris, where about 100 people were evacuated Friday night from two blocks after an arson attack set dozens of cars afire in an underground garage. Rampaging youths have also attacked property in the southern cities of Toulouse and Nice, and in Lille and Rennes to the north.

Hundreds of young people, including teenagers as young as 13, have been detained over the past two days. Although the police have been unable to stop the violence because of its apparent spontaneity and lack of clear leaders, officials say they have also begun to detect efforts to coordinate action and spread it nationally. In remarks on Europe 1 Radio, the prosecutor general in Paris, Yves Bot, said Web sites were urging youths in other cities to join the rioting.

The police said that for the first time they had deployed a helicopter to videotape incidents and coordinate with officers on the ground. Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders led a march of about 2,000 people yesterday morning in Aulnay-sous-Bois, one of the affected suburbs.

Many see the violence as a test of wills between Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and the young, mostly French Arab rioters. Many immigrants and their children blame Sarkozy for alienating young people with the way he has pressed a zero-tolerance anticrime campaign, which features frequent police checks of French Arabs in poor neighborhoods. But he has ignored calls from many French Arabs to resign, and is keeping up the pressure. During a visit to a police command center west of Paris yesterday, according to local news reports, he told officers, "Arrests -- that's the key."

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