PARIS (AP) – Youths fired at police and hurled flaming Molotov cocktails at churches, schools, cars and a daycare center in an 11th night of violence in France, sending a "shock wave across the country," the national police chief said Monday.
Vandals burned 1,408 vehicles across France, setting a new high for overnight arson attacks since the unrest started Oct. 27, Michel Gaudin told a news conference. The figure was an increase from the 1,295 vehicles torched the night before.
"We are witnessing a sort of shock wave that is spreading across the country," Gaudin said, noting that the violence appeared to be sliding away from Paris and worsening elsewhere in France.
Police arrested 395 people across the country, he said. Ten riot police were injured by youths firing fine-grain birdshot in a late night clash in the southern Paris suburb of Grigny, national police spokesman Patrick Hamon said.
Two were hospitalized but their lives were not in danger.
It was the first time police were injured by weapons fire since the unrest started nearly two weeks ago.
The violence came in open defiance to a warning by French President Jacques Chirac who pledged to clamp down on the troublemakers.
"The law must have the last word," Chirac said Sunday after a security meeting with top ministers, making his first public address on the riots. France is determined "to be stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear, and they will be arrested, judged and punished."
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin promised speeded up trials for rioters and extra security during France”s worst civil unrest in at least a decade.
Australia became the latest country to issue a travel warning, joining the United States and Russia in warning citizens to stay away from violence-hit areas.
The unrest began Oct. 27 in the low-income Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, after the deaths of two teenagers of Mauritanian and Tunisian origin. The youths were accidentally electrocuted as they hid from police in a power substation. They apparently thought they were being chased.
From an outburst of anger in suburban Paris housing projects, the violence has fanned out into a nationwide show of disdain for French authority from youths, including the children of Arabs and black Africans angered by high unemployment, poor housing and discrimination.
The country”s biggest Muslim fundamentalist organization, the Union for Islamic Organizations of France, issued a fatwa, or religious decree. It forbade all those "who seek divine grace from taking part in any action that blindly strikes private or public property or can harm others."
Arsonists burned two schools and a bus in the central city of Saint-Etienne and its suburbs, and two people were injured in the bus attack. Churches were set ablaze in northern Lens and southern Sete, he said. The extent of damage was not yet clear.
In Colombes in suburban Paris, youths pelted rocks at a bus, sending a 13-month-old child to the hospital with a head injury, Hamon said, while a daycare center was burned in Saint-Maurice, another Paris suburb.
Much of the youths” anger has focused on law-and-order Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who inflamed passions by referring to troublemakers as "scum."
In Strasbourg, youths stole a car and rammed it into a housing project, setting the vehicle and the building on fire.
"We”ll stop when Sarkozy steps down," said the defiant 17-year-old driver of the car, who gave his name only as Murat. Under arrest, he and several others awaited a ride to the police station as smoke poured from the windows of the housing project behind them.
Sarkozy said he planned to visit the two hospitalized police officers. It was unclear whether they were shot with hunting rifles or a less lethal weapon, the interior ministry spokesman said. One was wounded in the neck, the other in the legs.
The tough-talking interior minister said police must restore law and order to France, or gangs and extremists would fill the void.
"We will take the time we need, but order must return," Sarkozy said.
The violence has prompted soul-searching about how to ease anger and frustration among troubled youths in France”s grim public housing estates, where many residents are minorities. Educators met the French prime minister to think of ways to help.
"These are young people who are generally resigned, they face discrimination everywhere, for housing and work, and their malaise gets expressed in violence," said Ahmed Touabi, principal of an elementary school in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil. The troublemakers "feel rejected by France, and they want to spit on France."