PARIS (Reuters) -Gangs of youths torched more than 1,000 vehicles overnight in the tenth straight night of violence in Paris”s poor suburbs, despite the deployment of thousands of extra police.
In the past few days the rioting has been spreading to other French towns. On Saturday night, cars were burned out for the first time in central Paris, in the historic third district. And in the normally quiet Normandy town of Evreux, a shopping mall, 50 vehicles, a post office and two schools were gutted.
The violence began after the deaths of two men apparently fleeing police, and as the expression of pent up anger by young men, many Muslims of North and black African origin, at police treatment, racism, unemployment and their marginal place in French society.
Authorities have increasingly blamed the rolling nightly riots on organized crime gangs. But despite consultations with community leaders, young people and local officials, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has failed to offer a clear path out of the crisis.
The total of vehicles torched around France on Saturday night and Sunday morning was the highest so far, at 1,295 vehicles, the Interior Ministry said. There were no reports of serious injury.
A spokesman said the violence around Paris appeared to have hit a ceiling, but the rioting continued to spread elsewhere.
An extra 2,300 police have been drafted in. Seven police helicopters buzzed over the Paris region through the night, filming disturbances and directing mobile squads to incidents.
Police arrested 193 people. The spokesman said the rioters were avoiding direct clashes with police. "There is some harassment of police, but not direct confrontation," he said.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, accused of stoking passions by calling troublemakers "scum," has ignored calls to resign or apologize.
After a crisis cabinet meeting on Saturday, he said: "We are trying to be firm and avoid any provocation."
Villepin, who like Sarkozy has ambitions to be the right wing”s presidential candidate in 2007, is to publish an action plan for 750 tough neighborhoods by the end of the month.
With no end in view of the nights of wailing sirens, acrid smoke, stone-throwing and destruction, residents from all ethnic backgrounds are tiring of the unrest.
On Saturday, several thousand residents in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a rundown suburb northeast of Paris, marched past burned out vehicles behind a banner reading "No To Violence, Yes To Dialogue."