PARIS (AP) – The French Riviera cities of Nice and Cannes, best known for glitz and film festivals that attract Hollywood stars, were among areas that imposed curfews for minors Wednesday even as rioting abated.
The government toughened its stance against those involved in France’s worst civil unrest since its 1968 student riots. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said local officials have been told to deport the 120 foreigners convicted so far for their roles in the violence.
Although rioting persisted in some places for a 13th night, car burnings fell by nearly half and reports of violence dropped. Nonetheless, looters and vandals defied a state of emergency imposed by the government Tuesday, with attacks on superstores in northern France and a newspaper warehouse and a subway station in the south.
New arson attacks broke out Wednesday evening in the southern city of Toulouse, which was hit earlier this week. Vandals set four cars ablaze and rammed a burning car into a primary school, damaging its entrance, the local government said.
The 12-day state of emergency went into effect at midnight Tuesday. For much of France – including Paris – it had no perceptible effect. That such extraordinary measures were needed, however, has fueled national introspection about the country’s failure to integrate its African and Muslim minorities – seen as a key reason behind the rioting.
The decree paved the way for possible curfews in Paris, the surrounding communities, and more than 30 other cities and towns nationwide if officials feel they are needed. By Wednesday evening, only a few municipalities and regions imposed them; Paris had not.
In Nice, Cannes and 19 other towns in the Riviera region known as Alpes-Maritimes, including the resort of Antibes, minors are forbidden from being outdoors between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. without adult supervision. Certain bars in Nice were ordered closed during those hours for 10 days.
There have been no direct clashes between youths and police in the Riviera but unrest that began in the area Friday had persisted in some towns for four nights.
Arsonists struck a warehouse used by Nice-Matin newspaper in the town of Grasse, national police spokesman Patrick Reydy said. A total of 161 cars have been burned – about half in the Nice area – and nine buildings damaged across the Riviera region.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who previously inflamed passions by referring to troublemakers as "scum," said 120 foreigners have been convicted for roles in the violence, and he 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.
Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, said French nationals of immigrant backgrounds should be stripped of their nationality and sent "back to their country of origin" if they committed crimes.
He and others on the extreme right are trying to capitalize on the unrest by arguing that it shows the dangers of immigration. Le Pen said the riots were "just the start" of conflicts caused by "massive immigration from countries of the Third World that is threatening not just France but the whole continent."
The state-of-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.
The violence started Oct. 27 among youths in Seine-Saint-Denis, a town northeast of Paris, angry over the accidental deaths of two teenagers, but it grew into a nationwide insurrection of arson and clashes with police.
Anger and unrest appears to be subsiding in Seine-Saint-Denis, which decided not to impose a curfew.
"Things have got better," said Bernard Fragneau, the top government official for the Essonne region southwest of Paris. He noted that car burnings there have decreased and there were no direct clashes in the past two nights. He said he had decided against a curfew.
In Normandy, the Seine-Maritime department announced curfews for minors in four towns, including Rouen and Le Havre. Similar curfews were announced for the northern city of Amiens and central Orleans. Curfew violators face up to two months in jail and a $4,400 fine, the Justice Ministry said. Minors face one month in jail.
In some towns, residents have banded together to keep overnight watch on public buildings and to patrol their neighborhoods, some armed only with fire extinguishers. Police have been reinforced, with an additional 1,000 officers dispatched overnight to bring the total deployment to 11,500, said National Police Chief Michel Gaudin. He attributed the drop in attacks to police sweeps and cooperation from community groups.
Overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, youths torched 617 vehicles, down from 1,173 a night earlier, police said. Incidents were reported in 116 towns, down from 226. Police made 280 arrests, raising the total to 1,830 since the violence broke out. Firefighters responded to 30 percent fewer calls overnight than the previous day.
Still, youths looted and set fire to a furniture and electronics store and an adjacent carpet store in Arras in the north, said Reydy, the national police spokesman.
Subway service that had been shut down in the eastern city of Lyon resumed Wednesday after a firebomb exploded in a station late Tuesday. No one was injured, but transport officials announced that bus and subway service will be halted daily at 7 p.m. at least until Sunday as a precaution.
"The arrests are bearing fruit," said Interior Ministry spokesman Franck Louvrier. "It’s clear there has been a significant drop, but we must persevere."