LE BLANC MESNIL, France, AP -A wave of arson attacks in Paris” restive suburbs punctured what authorities said Friday was otherwise a first relative night of calm after a week of clashes between angry youths and riot police.
Officials said at least 400 cars were torched in the Paris metropolitan region, an increase from previous nights, but there were fewer direct clashes with police who were deployed in force across the volatile suburbs north of Paris.
"The peak is now behind us," Gerard Gaudron, mayor of Aulnay-sous-Bois, one of the worst-hit suburbs, told France-Info radio. He said parents were now determined to keep their teenagers at home to prevent nighttime unrest in the streets. "People have had enough. People are afraid. It”s time for this to stop."
Some 1,300 riot police fanned out across the Seine-Saint-Denis area northeast of the capital, where the violence has been concentrated, after Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin vowed to restore order in the region beset by poverty and unemployment.
More than 100 firefighters battled towering flames engulfing a carpet warehouse in Aulnay-sous-Bois early Friday.
Hours earlier, in nearby Le Blanc Mesnil, another warehouse was set afire. Youths fired buckshot at riot police vehicles in Neuilly-sur-Marne, further east, and a group of 30 to 40 harassed police near a synagogue in Stains where a city bus was torched and a school classroom partially burned, said the top official of Seine-Saint-Denis, Prefect Jean-Francois Cordet.
A bus depot was set afire to the west of Paris in the town of Trappes, incinerating 27 buses, authorities said.
The unrest was a scaled-back version of the ferocious rioting of previous nights. Overnight clashes Wednesday took a dangerous turn when rioters in three towns shot live bullets at police and firefighters, none of whom were injured.
The unrest started last Thursday when angry youths protested the accidental deaths of two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois, who were electrocuted when they jumped a wall surrounding a high-voltage electrical transformer while fleeing police.
The anger spread across the housing projects that dominate many of Paris” northern and northeastern suburbs, which are marked by soaring unemployment, delinquency and a sense of despair.
The rioting has grown into a broader challenge for the French state. It has laid bare discontent simmering in suburbs where immigrants — many of them African Muslims — and their French-born children are trapped by poverty, unemployment, discrimination, crime and poor education and housing.
France”s Muslim population, an estimated 5 million, is Western Europe”s largest. But rather than being embraced as equal citizens, immigrants and their French-born children often complain of police harassment and job discrimination.
Suburban residents and opposition politicians have blamed Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy of fanning tensions with tough police tactics and talk — including calling troublemakers "scum."
"Sarkozy”s language has added oil to the fire. He should really weigh his words," said Mohammed Fawzi Kaci, an Algerian immigrant. "I”m proud to live in France, but this France disappoints me."
Addressing the Senate, the prime minister vowed: "I will not accept organized gangs making the law in some neighborhoods. I will not accept having crime networks and drug trafficking profiting from disorder."