France returns to "totally normal situation"

France returned to what police called a "totally normal situation" overnight after three weeks of unrest, with fewer than 100 vehicles torched. The calm returned after parliament Wednesday extended a 12-day state of emergency for three months, until mid-February, to combat the worst civil unrest in four decades.

"It is a return to a totally normal situation," police said while communicating the overnight figures, 98 vehicles burned and 33 people detained around the country. Those detained included people caught carrying firebombs and youths breaking curfews in some of the towns where movement at night has been limited.

A night earlier, 163 vehicles were torched. A total of 9,071 vehicles have been set afire since the violence began Oct. 27. At the height of the unrest, youths burned 1,408 vehicles across France in one night, on Nov. 6, and shots were fired at police.

Police did not specify where the arrests or arson occurred.

The state of emergency, first declared Nov. 9, allows local authorities to declare curfews when deemed necessary as well as day and night searches of homes and other measures.

Nearly 10,000 police remained deployed around France to guard against violence _ mainly arson attacks on vehicles, buildings and, on Wednesday, a church.

The violence, which began in the northeast Paris suburbs and spread across the country, has been led by frustrated youths, mostly immigrants or French citizens of immigrant parents, trapped in suburban housing projects where unemployment and delinquency soar and opportunities to get out are severely limited.

Despite the decline in violence, France's upper house of parliament on Wednesday signed off on the government's request for a three-month extension of the state of emergency, approving the measure by a vote of 202-125. The extension had already passed in the lower house a day earlier.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told the Senate that tensions in troubled neighborhoods justified continued extraordinary powers. The leftist opposition opposed the state of emergency. Criticism also mounted among citizens concerned that France is compromising its values and risked further enflaming passions. More than 1,000 people who fear the measures treat residents of poor suburbs like "internal enemies" demonstrated Wednesday in the Latin Quarter. Some called for Sarkozy's resignation.

Tough tactics used to combat violence also include speedy trials and plans to deport foreigners implicated in the unrest, reports the AP. I.L.

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