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French Officials Call in Police, Impose Curfews Following Riots

By Mark Landler 
and Craig S. Smith


The civil unrest sweeping France spread to nearly every major city in the country by Monday, claimed its first death, and even touched two cities elsewhere in Europe as the French government sought to reassure a jittery nation that it can quickly bring the escalating situation under control.

“The government response is one of firmness,” Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on television late Monday, calling the violence “unacceptable and inexcusable.” He said the government would call up 1,500 police reserves to reinforce the 8,000 police officers who are already waging nightly battles in the streets. He said some towns would impose curfews to keep marauding youths off the streets, but ruled out for now sending the army into the suburbs with populations largely of West African and North African origin where the unrest has grown.

“We are not at that point,” Villepin said, but added, “at each step, we will take the necessary measures to re-establish order very quickly throughout France.” France has already deployed paramilitary riot police officers in many troubled neighborhoods, but has avoided aggressive tactics for fear of sparking an incident that could further escalate the violence.

On Monday, a man from suburban Stains died after being beaten Friday by a gang of rioters.

The local police officers assigned to poor suburbs, who have been objects of scorn to the rioting youths, are often inexperienced and ill-equipped, according to a recent report from the National Commission on Ethics in the Security Services. The report said that a lack of training led to behavior that was at best clumsy and at worst racist in those neighborhoods with large immigrant populations.

France was slow to react to the spreading violence (which was set off by the accidental deaths of two youths on Oct. 27) in part because the initial nights of unrest did not seem particularly unusual in a country where an average of more than 80 cars were set on fire every day this year even before the violence.

The government at first seemed distracted by internal political squabbles as the arson and attacks on the police gathered momentum last week and hopscotched across the nation. It then appeared paralyzed as the violence spiraled into the worst civil unrest that France has faced in nearly 40 years.