France enjoys its first normal night after worst civil unrest in decades

France had its first "totally normal" night after three weeks of the country's worst civil unrest in decades, police said Thursday, although nearly 10,000 police and state of emergency powers remained in place to prevent violence and rioting from flaring again.

Police said the number of vehicles set ablaze overnight fell to 98, marking the lowest tally in over two weeks and a return to relative calm.

Dousing cars with gasoline and setting them on fire is a common form of delinquency in &to=' target=_blank>France, but it became the barometer of the unrest roiling the country as minority youths banded together to vent anger against police and frustrations over racial discrimination, social inequalities and unemployment.

In a three-week span, youths torched 9,071 vehicles in nightly rioting that left 126 police officers injured, the Interior Ministry said.

At its worst, the &to=' target=_blank>rioting spread to nearly 300 towns and cities and involved violent exchanges of stones and tear gas between youths and police. Rioters fired live bullets and birdshot at officers and, at the peak, incinerated 1,408 vehicles in a single night.

Vandals hurled gasoline bombs at buildings, destroying or damaging hundreds of shops, government offices, schools, and even mosques and a church. Almost 3,000 youths were arrested.

Muslim leaders in France have condemned the attacks against houses of worship, and said the violence against mosques showed that Muslims were not the only ones behind the attacks.

Dalil Boubakeur, the director of the Great Mosque of Paris and one of the country's leading Muslim figures, said in a statement Tuesday that it was too easy to make Muslims "the scapegoat" of France's riots, and that he detected a "troubling Islamophobia."

The French Federation of Insurance Companies gave a preliminary estimate for the total damage from the rioting _ up to Ђ200 million (US$234 million), including more than Ђ20 million (US$23 million) for torched cars.

Though the violence has subsided, parliament approved a three-month extension of the state of emergency Wednesday at the government's request. First imposed for 12 days on Nov. 9, the extended emergency means local authorities can impose curfews and police can conduct searches of homes when deemed necessary through mid-February.

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