French riots spread to 300 communities

Curfews authorized

first death reported


PARIS -- As French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin declared that curfews would be imposed to quell civil unrest, the escalating violence that has engulfed more than 300 French cities and towns claimed its first fatality yesterday.

A 61-year-old man who was beaten by rioters last week died of his injuries. Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec, from the Paris suburb of Stains, was attacked outside the housing project where he lived. He fell into a coma and died yesterday in a hospital.

Speaking on French television, Villepin said local officials "will be able to put in place a curfew under the authority of the interior minister if they think it will be useful to permit a return to calm and ensure the protection of residents."

He also said that 1,500 police reservists would be called up to bolster the 8,000 officers who have been deployed to trouble spots.

He rejected growing calls to use French troops. "We are not at that point," he said.

Local authorities in at least three outlying districts of Paris have indicated they will be ordering curfews in the next few days.

The rioting was triggered by an Oct. 27 incident in which two teenagers of African descent were electrocuted when they tried to hide from police in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.

This touched off angry protests from the young men who live in the squalid housing projects that ring the capital and most other French cities. The nightly violence spreading across France has become emblematic of the anger and alienation of the country's immigrant communities of black Africans and Arabs from North Africa who complain that they are trapped in a cycle of unemployment, poverty and discrimination.

President Jacques Chirac, in private comments more conciliatory than his warnings Sunday that rioters would be caught and punished, acknowledged in a meeting yesterday with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga that France has not integrated immigrant youths, she said. Chirac deplored the "ghettoization of youths of African or North African origin" and recognized "the incapacity of French society to fully accept them," Vike-Freiberga said.

With the police frustrated by their inability to end the violence, and with the increasingly well-organized rioters emboldened by their success, officials say they are grateful that the death toll has not been higher.

Beleaguered police are trying to adapt to the hit-and-run tactics of the rioters, but as the violence has spread, the police have been stretched thin, "working 10 to 14 hours a day under extreme tension," according to Frederic Lagache, head of France's largest police union.

Two officers who suffered gunshot wounds Sunday in what police described as an ambush in the Paris suburb of Grigny remained hospitalized. "We hope that with all these calls for calm from the political leaders, the youngsters will stop," Lagache said. "We hope that soon they will be as tired as we are."

But the violence continued unabated for a 12th straight night yesterday.

In the southern city of Toulouse, rioters stopped a bus, ordered the driver to get out and set the vehicle on fire, the Associated Press reported. No passengers were inside.

When riot police arrived on the scene, about 50 youths hurled firebombs and other objects at them. Police responded with tear gas.

Sunday night saw the worst of the rioting thus far. More than 1,400 cars were torched and 395 people arrested, according to police.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been criticized for referring to the rioters as "scum," described Sunday's violence as "multiple, organized acts of aggression that had nothing spontaneous about them."

Since the rioting began, about 4,700 cars have been burned and 1,200 suspects arrested, according to National Police Chief Michel Gaudin.

There were indications yesterday that the trouble may be spreading beyond France. Police in Brussels, Belgium, said five cars were torched outside the city's main train station, and German police were investigating the burning of five cars early yesterday in a Berlin neighborhood with a large Turkish immigrant population.

The French government, facing the most serious challenge to its authority since the 1968 student revolts, has been sharply criticized for failing to bring the violence to a halt or to address the underlying social causes. Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, a notorious xenophobe who frequently targets France's large Muslim minority, warned that the situation was drifting toward "what could be the start of a civil war."

Leaders of France's 5 million Muslims have been eager to show their support for the government's efforts to restore order.

The Union for Islamic Organizations of France, a frequent critic of the government, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, that forbids Muslims "who seek divine grace from taking part in any action that blindly strikes private or public property or can harm others."

Lhaj Thami Breze, president of the group, said in a telephone interview that although the rioting should not be seen in a religious context, the fatwa was issued because "it's our religious and civic duty as part of a society that is in crisis - we want to contribute to calming things down."

Tom Hundley writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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