- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

PARIS — Pressure mounted on French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin’s government to move quickly to restore order as violence broke out in the suburbs of Paris for the seventh night running.

The French government leader canceled a trip to Canada yesterday to tackle the spreading unrest in areas with large African and Muslim populations, and to quell a damaging dispute among his ministers over how to respond.

Last night, youths went on a rampage in nine areas in poor suburbs ringing the French capital to the north and the east, setting on fire about 40 cars, two buses and trash cans, as well as causing damage to at least one school and a shopping center.

Hundreds of police were deployed to control the disturbances, with some units diverted from a soccer match.

One trade union representing policemen described the unrest as a “civil war” and called on Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to impose a curfew in areas that have been affected by the violence to ensure that the violence did not spiral out of control.

The week of street fighting was sparked by the deaths of two teenagers who were fatally shocked while apparently fleeing police during a local disturbance.

A heavy police presence kept tense order in Clichy-sous-Bois as disturbances broke out in previously quiet areas.

Police detained 34 persons overnight Tuesday, Mr. Sarkozy told Europe 1 radio.

“We have found our thrills: playing with riot police in the evening,” one 22-year-old told an Agence France-Presse reporter yesterday. “As long as the police come and provoke us in the evening, we’ll bring out the Molotov cocktails, stones, petanque balls, planks.”

“In the day, we sleep, go see our girlfriends, play video games,” the young man continued as a half-dozen youths nodded. “And in the evening, we have a good time: At 9 p.m., we go and fight the police.”

The unrest has stoked bitter rivalry between Mr. de Villepin and Mr. Sarkozy ahead of presidential elections in 2007.

Although demanding punishment for lawbreakers, Mr. de Villepin took a swipe at Mr. Sarkozy, who had called the protesting youths “scum.”

“Let’s avoid stigmatizing areas. … Let’s treat petty crime differently to major crime. Let’s fight all discrimination with firmness and avoid confusing a disruptive minority with the vast majority of youngsters who want to integrate into society and succeed,” Mr. de Villepin said.

President Jacques Chirac said the law must be enforced firmly but “in a spirit of dialogue and respect,” government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope quoted him as saying. “There cannot be ‘no-go’ areas in the republic.”

The unrest in the predominantly immigrant suburbs was fueled by youths’ frustration at their failure to get jobs and recognition in French society.

Those problems confront governments across Europe, but the French unrest also has highlighted fault lines dividing a conservative government split between supporters of Mr. Sarkozy and allies of Mr. Chirac and Mr. de Villepin.

Equal Opportunities Minister Azouz Begag openly criticized Mr. Sarkozy and said the interior minister never consulted him over policy.

“I talk with real words,” Mr. Sarkozy fired back in an interview in the daily Le Parisien. “When someone shoots at policemen, he’s not just a ‘youth,’ he’s a lout, full stop.”

Commentators said the intense rivalry between the Cabinet’s two most powerful figures was distracting the government and beginning to dictate policy.

“With Begag, the prime minister thinks he has found a way to compete, at least in terms of tone, with Sarkozy’s omnipresence on the subject, and to push him into going over the top and so to make a mistake,” said the left-leaning daily Liberation.

The regional Sud-Ouest newspaper said that with presidential elections just 18 months away, Mr. Sarkozy seemed to be losing his touch: “What’s at stake for him right now is 2007.”

The opposition Socialists, humiliated in 2002 general elections largely on law-and-order issues, denounced Mr. Sarkozy’s style and said his tough policies were failing.

“I think when you are interior minister and No. 2 in the government, you should master your own language,” party leader Francois Hollande told reporters.

Dramatic pictures of burning vehicles have grabbed headlines and forced the unrest to the top of the government’s agenda.

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