France has experienced a relatively quiet first night since emergency curfew powers were introduced to smother nationwide riots. 573 vehicles were set on fire overnight, down from 860 the night before.
It is thought the fear of heavy fines and prison sentences coupled with an increased police presence have deterred some from taking to the streets. However, it is not known whether this is merely a lull, and unrest did erupt in some cities. In one suburb of Toulouse, dozens of youths hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at anti-riot forces. The entire public transport system in Lyon was shut down after a metro station was fire-bombed and two buses were set ablaze. And in the suburbs of Bordeaux, a gas-powered bus exploded when it was hit by a petrol bomb. Paris, where the disturbances began nearly two weeks ago, was relatively calm – there were reports of isolated cases of arson and some arrests. The chief of police in the northern city of Amiens said: “The return to calm here can most probably be explained by the issuing of the state of emergency.” The order dates back to the 1950’s when authorities used it to try to quell violence in Algeria prior to its independence. The measure is applied at the discretion of regional governors. The left-wing opposition has voiced concerns about its impact on civil liberties, but it seems that interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is under fierce pressure, feels there is no alternative. Commentators say the riots represent the most serious crisis faced by President Jacques Chirac’s government yet.