French senate pushed through three-month extension

The French senate pushed through a three-month extension to a state of emergency on Wednesday, as the authorities began deportation procedures for a dozen foreigners convicted over the rioting that has rocked the country. Defending the measure before the upper house senate, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that, although calm was returning after almost three weeks of night-time rioting, "nothing has yet been won for good".

According to the national police service, 163 vehicles were torched and 50 people arrested across the country overnight, almost down to levels seen before the unrest broke out on October 27. But the government remained on edge after weeks of troubles in poor city suburbs that have seen nearly 9 000 cars burned and 2 888 people arrested.

Senators voted by 202 votes to 125 in favour of the proposal, with left-wing parties opposing it.

Around 1 000 people held a protest march through central Paris on Wednesday evening to oppose the plans, and were set to deliver a petition to the senate. The rally was called by dozens of left-wing parties, rights groups and unions, who reject the move as unnecessary, given the fall in violence.

The emergency measure - based on a 1955 law created for the Algeria war - permits certain regions to implement curfews but only a few, mainly around Lyon and on the French Riviera, have done so, and then only for minors.

It also gives police wider powers to conduct searches for weapons without warrants. Meanwhile officials were enacting deportation orders against 10 non-French rioters. Sarkozy told parliament on Tuesday the move - opposed by rights groups but supported by nearly two-thirds of the public, according to a survey - was "a question of principle."

Most of the youths behind the violence come from impoverished neighbourhoods with big communities of immigrants from France's former colonial possessions in north and west Africa.

For the first time on Wednesday, there were signs of the unrest spreading to far-flung French territories. Firefighters and police officers on the West Indies island of Guadeloupe were shot at overnight as they were called out for two cars fire-bombed in a neighbourhood of the main city, Pointe-a-Pitre.

An arson attack on a church in southeast France overnight also unsettled President Jacques Chirac, who issued a statement calling it "an intolerable attack" that would be punished. Though it was not immediately clear whether the church fire was part of the urban violence, it occurred in the town of Romans-sur-Isere where individuals also tried to use a car to ram into a police station.

An Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed that the government's response was meeting with the approval of the public, as Chirac, Sarkozy and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin all saw boosts to their popularity levels, reports News 24. I.L.

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