France get state of emergency

Rioters defied emergency laws that took effect Wednesday, as they looted and burned two superstores, set fire to a newspaper office and paralyzed France's second-largest city's subway system with a firebomb.

President Jacques Chirac announced extraordinary security measures, which began Wednesday and are valid for a 12-day state of emergency, clearing the way for curfews after nearly two weeks of rioting in neglected and impoverished neighborhoods with largely Muslim communities.

Officials were forced to shut down the southern city of Lyon's subway system after a firebomb exploded in a station late Tuesday, a regional government spokesman said, adding no one was hurt. Transport officials were to decide Wednesday morning when service could resume.

Also Tuesday, rioters looted and set fire to a furniture and electronics store and an adjacent carpet store in Arras, in the northern Pas-de-Calais region, national police spokesman Patrick Reydy told. Arsonists also set fire to the Nice-Matin newspaper's office in Grasse in the southeast Alpes-Maritimes region.

Nine buses were set ablaze at bus depot in Dole, in the eastern Jura region, Reydy said. A bus exploded in Bassens, near the southwest city of Bordeaux after a firebomb was thrown into it, he said, adding the driver escaped.

However, the overall number of violent incidents overnight Tuesday-Wednesday appeared to be lower than the previous two nights.

Youths threw gasoline bombs at police who retaliated with tear gas in the southern city of Toulouse, where Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was visiting, LCI television said.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said riot police faced "determined individuals, structured gangs, organized criminality." Police say rioters have been using mobile phone text messages and the Internet to organize arson attacks.

Villepin, tacitly acknowledging that France has failed to live up to its egalitarian ideals, said discrimination was a "daily and repeated" reality.

French regional officials were preparing to use the state of emergency powers to impose curfews. The Interior Ministry said there was no centralized list of towns and cities that would be affected, because curfew measures were being drawn up locally.

The northern French city of Amiens, the central city of Orleans and Savigny-sur-Orge, and the Essonne region south of Paris said they planned curfews for minors, who must be accompanied by adults at night. Amiens also planned to forbid the sale of gasoline in cans to minors.

Curfew violators face up to two months in jail and a €3,750 fine, the Justice Ministry said. Minors face one month in jail. Police - with 8,000 officers deployed and 1,500 reservists called up as reinforcements - are expected to enforce curfews. The army has not been called in yet, the AP reports.

Photo: Reuters


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