Government appeals for calm went unheeded in several Paris suburbs last night, where angry youths once again took to the streets. For the seventh night running they clashed with police in the north east of the French capital, setting vehicles on fire, hurling petrol bombs and stones.
The riots broke out in Clichy-sous-Bois last week following the deaths of two teenagers. They were electrocuted while apparently fleeing police.
Two primary schools, a post office and a shopping centre were damaged and a large car showroom was set ablaze overnight. Pictures of burning vehicles have, after several days, forced the unrest to the top of the government’s agenda – and divided the cabinet.
Some feel a degree of sympathy with the protesters, many of whom are North African immigrants who live on run-down estates with double the average unemployment rate.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of heavy-handedness after calling the rioters “scum”.
“He’s stirred things up,” said one protester. “He’s provoked all the suburbs, he thinks he’s clever but he isn’t.”
Both Sarkozy and Prime Minister and former Interior Minister Dominque de Villepin have cancelled foreign trips. Mr Villepin said the government will assure public order, with the necessary determination. “That’s the difficult task of Nicolas Sarkozy,” he added.
There have been calls for a curfew to stop the violence spreading further. While President Jacques Chirac is calling for calm and a swift resolution to the unrest, Sarkozy’s iron fist approach has significant support in the country..