French police chief optimistic that rioting nearing end after 17 days
PARIS – France’s worst rioting since the 1960s seems to be nearing an end, the national police chief said Sunday as fewer cars were torched nationwide and Paris remained calm despite Internet and cell phone messages urging violence in the streets of the capital.European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso proposed that the European Union give $58 million to France for helping riot-hit towns recover. He said the EU could make up to $1.2 billion available in longer-term support.In scattered attacks, youths rammed a burning car into a center for retirees in Provence and pelted police with stones in the heart of Lyon, the country’s third biggest city. A firebomb was tossed at a Lyon mosque but did not explode.The nationwide storm of arson attacks, rioting and other violence, often by young people from impoverished minority communities, has lost steam since the government declared a state of emergency Wednesday.Youths set fire to 374 parked vehicles before dawn Sunday, compared to 502 the previous night, police said. A week ago, 1,400 cars were incinerated in a single night.If the downward trend continues, “things could return to normal very quickly,” National Police Chief Michel Gaudin said, noting that French youths burn about 100 cars on an average Saturday night.The unrest continued for an 18th night Sunday. In Toulouse, rioters rammed a car into a primary school before setting the building ablaze, the regional government said.The rioting, sparked by the accidental electrocution deaths of two teens who thought police were chasing them, began in Paris’ poor suburbs, where many immigrants from North and West Africa live with their French-born children in housing projects.France’s worst unrest since the 1968 student-worker protests is forcing the country to confront anger that has built for decades over racial discrimination, crowded housing and unemployment. The national jobless rate is nearly 10 percent, but it is around 40 percent for youths in housing projects.Venissieux, a Lyon suburb, was one of about 40 towns to impose a curfew for minors. “What’s the point? There’s not a war here!” young people cried out to patrolling police in one troubled neighborhood.But several Venissieux mothers said the curfew made them feel more at ease.”We always think we’re going to see our car burned, or our neighbor’s car burned, when we wake up in the morning,” said 40-year-old Sihem, who declined to give her last name.On Monday, the Cabinet is to propose a bill allowing an extension of the 12-day state of emergency if needed.In the next few days, France is expected to start deporting foreigners implicated in the violence – a plan by law-and-order Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy that has caused divisions in the government.A poll in the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche suggested Sarkozy is the politician that French people trust most to deal with the troubles. Some 53 percent said they supported him, while about 71 percent said they lacked confidence in President Jacques Chirac.Nearly a quarter said they trusted far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, Chirac’s main challenger in the 2002 presidential race. Le Pen has seized on the violence to promote his National Front party’s “zero immigration” platform.More copycat attacks were registered in neighboring countries Sunday, with 29 vehicles torched in Belgium, four cars burned in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, and two cars burned in the Swiss town of Martigny.—-Associated Press writers Samantha Bordes in Paris and Carole Bianchi in Venissieux contributed to this report.