Beginning a 12th night of riots and violence, Muslim immigrants in France set fire to an empty bus today in the southern city of Toulouse and threw firebombs and rocks at law enforcement personnel.
Rioting yesterday spread to 300 towns as the nation endured its 11th straight night of unrest, with as many as 36 policemen injured, 10 of whom were shot.
The first fatality also was reported today when a man beaten by an attacker while trying to extinguish a trash-can fire died of his injuries.
Yesterday, a Molotov cocktail “factory” was discovered by police just outside Paris, 1,400 vehicles were burned, and rioters were reported to have fired shotguns and hunting rifles on police for the first time since the uprising began.
French President Jacques Chirac promised arrest, trials and punishment for those sowing “violence or fear” as police and rioters clashed south of Paris and in other towns around the capital.
Ten riot police were wounded, two seriously, in fighting with 250 to 300 youths in Grigny. Across the country, rioters pelted Molotov cocktails at cars and a school, and firefighters in some areas worked under police escort.
In Evry, south of Paris, police discovered what they called “a Molotov cocktail factory” in an unused police station. Six teenagers were arrested. Significant supplies of gasoline were found and about 150 bottles, a third of them filled and ready to be used, were seized.
On Saturday night, mostly North African rioters torched nearly 1,300 vehicles and torched businesses, schools and symbols of French authority, including post offices and provincial police stations. The violence spread to Paris for the first time.
But the intensity of the attacks escalated once again last night.
“The law must have the last word,” Chirac said in his first public address on the violence. France is determined “to be stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear, and they will be arrested, judged and punished.”
The president, who spoke after a security meeting with top ministers, said France would promote “respect for all, justice and equal opportunities.”
“But there is a precondition, a priority, I repeat,” Chirac said. “That is the restoring of security and public order.”
Violence has broken out in Strasbourg in the east, Toulouse in the south-west, Nantes in the west and Avignon, Nice and Cannes in the south and in the northern town of Evreux in Normandy.
Gangs threw gasoline bombs at a local school and four police officers were injured in clashes with youths, some of them reportedly armed with baseball bats.
In Paris last night, police helicopters could be heard overhead as 2,300 police patrolled the capital in an attempt to pursue and identify those responsible for the attacks.
According to a Reuters report, the Action Police CFTC union urged the French government to impose a curfew in areas hit by the riots and call in the army to control the crowds.
“Nothing seems to be able to stop the civil war that spreads a bit more every day across the whole country,” the CFTC said in a statement. “The events we’re living through now are without precedent since the end of the Second World War.”
The mayhem began 11 nights ago as isolated violence in one impoverished Paris suburb. It is now seen as a nationwide crisis – France’s worst civil unrest since May 1968.
Authorities say drug traffickers and Islamic militants are helping to organize the unrest, via the internet and mobile phones, among the black North African immigrant communities who make up a significant part of many poor suburban housing estates. French Muslim authorities yesterday issued a fatwa – a religious edict – against the riots.
But Dalil Boubakeur, the head of the French Muslim Council and leader of the largest mosque in Paris, seemed to blame the government for the continuing violence.
“What I want from the authorities, from Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, the prime minister and senior officials, are words of peace,” he said.
Sarkozy has been widely criticized for his “warlike” language in which he referred to rioters as “scum” and vowed to “clean up” the suburbs.
Neighboring Germany, also with a large Muslim immigrant population, mostly of Turkish origin, was watching the horror unfold in France with alarm.
Wolfgang Bosbach, the deputy leader of the conservative Christian Democrats in the German parliament, told a Sunday newspaper: “There are differences between the situation in France and here, but we should not be under the illusion that similar events could not happen in Germany.”
In Italy, Romano Prodi, the opposition leader, called on the government to take urgent action, telling reporters: “We have the worst suburbs in Europe. I don’t think things are so different from Paris. It’s only a question of time.”
Denmark has also been hit with what is being characterized as its own “Islamic Intifada.” In Arhus, Denmark, young Muslims were heard chanting, “This land belongs to us!”
A masked spokesman for the rioters told Danish reporters that Muslims were tired of being oppressed and harassed and warned the police to stay away.
“This is our area. We rule this place,” he said.
The unrest in France began Oct. 27 by the apparently accidental deaths of two teenagers of African origin, Bouna Traore, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, who were electrocuted in the rundown Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois after hiding in an electricity sub-station. Locals say they were being pursued by police after a robbery, but French authorities have denied this.
Since then, more than 3,500 cars have been set on fire and 800 people arrested as night riots have spread from Paris suburbs to other cities including Toulouse, Rennes and Lille. Schools, public offices and businesses have been burned.
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