Riots in France sign of “profound malaise”, Chirac says

The unrest across France was the sign of a “profound malaise” that must be met with firmness, but also fairness, President Jacques Chirac said. In his first address to the nation since the violence erupted on October 27, the president said that the laws of France must be obeyed and that values must be inspired in youths living in the poor suburbs ringing French cities.

Chirac said yesterday that discrimination – seen as a factor behind the violence – should be combated.

But he appeared to rule out US-style affirmative action. “There is no question of entering in the logic of quotas,” Chirac said, speaking with a French tricolour and EU flag behind him.

Chirac said he had decided to set up a corps of volunteers to offer training for 50,000 youths by 2007. He also said the French media, which is not very ethnically diverse, must “better reflect the reality of France today”.

He told companies and unions they must encourage diversity and support employment for youths from tough neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile the French cabinet said it would ask parliament to extend a state of emergency for three months.

The rioting and arson that broke out 19 days ago have abated over the past week. But the decision to extend a 12-day state of emergency until mid-February made clear that authorities feared the anger seething below the relative calm could resurface.

The magnitude of the unrest, marked by nightly burning of vehicles, schools and warehouses around the country, has stunned France.

The country’s leadership and many citizens have discovered the depth of discontent in France’s suburban housing projects, most of which are filled with immigrants and their French children, many from Muslim north Africa.

Discrimination, soaring unemployment and other social ills have stigmatised suburban youths.

The civil unrest is the worst since the student-worker revolts of May 1968 and the worst ever in the suburbs, where sporadic violence has in the past been quickly capped.

The parliament, where Chirac’s conservative right has a broad majority, was to debate the state of emergency measure starting tomorrow, with easy approval expected at an unknown date.

The bill opens the way for recourse to extraordinary measures by regional authorities, such as calling curfews or conducting day-and-night searches of homes.

About 40 French towns, including France’s third-largest city, Lyon, have used the measure so far to impose curfews for minors.

Government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said the bill would leave open the possibility of ending the emergency measures before the three-month term expires.

Scattered arson attacks continued this morning. But the number of vehicle burnings, considered by some to be a barometer of the unrest, dropped sharply. Youths set fire to 284 vehicles, compared with 374 the previous night, police said.

A week ago, 1,400 vehicles were incinerated in a single night.

“The lull is confirmed,” national police spokesman Patrick Hamon said.

Still, the overnight violence from Sunday to Monday did not spare larger targets.

In Toulouse, vandals rammed a car into a primary school before setting the building on fire. In northern France, arsonists set fire to a sports centre in Faches-Thumesnil and a school in Halluin, reports Ireland Online. I.L.

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