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Paris police fear rioters’ heavy arms

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PARIS -- Police officers, exhausted and dispirited after 11 nights of street battles, say their mainly young African and Arab adversaries have access to sophisticated weapons including grenades and could soon begin using them.

A dozen officers were injured, two of them seriously, after being shot with hunting rifles fitted with lead pellets during rioting last night in the suburb of Grigny, south of Paris, police said.

Jean-Christophe Carne, president of a police trade union, told The Washington Times before last night's outbreak that police officers were increasingly pessimistic that civic order would be restored anytime soon.

"Most of these kids are being coached by professional petty criminals and gang leaders in the suburbs," said Mr. Carne, president of Action Police CFTC.

"In the past, when we have cracked down on these criminals in their homes, we found drugs, grenades and heavy weapons such as guns. While they haven't started using these arms yet, there's also no reason to think they wouldn't."

About 200 rioters took part in last night's rioting in Grigny, pelting police with stones and bottles and shooting shotgun pellets. "The pellets will not kill a person if fired from a distance, but in some circumstances, they can do serious harm, such as blind someone," said a police spokesman.

In other areas ringing the French capital, as well as in cities and towns across the country, arsonists continued to attack cars, buses, schools, social centers and day care centers as well as other public buildings using homemade gasoline bombs.

In St. Etienne, an old industrial city in the center of France, vandals set a bus on fire, injuring two persons. While in Colombes, a suburb west of Paris, a baby was injured by stones ricocheting off a bus under attack.

President Jacques Chirac declared earlier yesterday that restoring security and public order was an "absolute priority."

Speaking publicly for the first time since the rioting began Oct. 27, Mr. Chirac said, "The law must have the last word. The republic is quite determined, by definition, to be stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear."

Mr. Chirac, who had been criticized for his silence at a time of crisis, issued his statement after meeting top ministers on domestic security.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who attended the meeting, said security throughout the country will be reinforced and court procedures accelerated so that those arrested can be tried immediately.

Later in the evening, Muslim leaders also called for an end to violence, issuing a religious edict, or fatwa, against rioting. French authorities have hinted that Islamic militants may be manipulating angry teenagers to defy the government, using the Internet to organize the unrest.

Despite the tough talk from government and community leaders, there has been no mention yet of whether the army would be called in, or whether a curfew would be imposed to suppress the rioting, the worst in France since the 1968 student riots. Overtaxed police officers, however, are hoping to see such reinforcements.

"With every passing day, the violence gets worse and we are incapable of dealing with it," Mr. Carne said. "Morale within the police is at zero, and I am very pessimistic that the situation can be resolved without a major reinforcement of security."

Mr. Carne said three policewomen assaulted in the Normandy town of Evreux on Saturday night were likely targeted because they were outnumbered by attackers, adding that it took two hours before additional officers were able to reach the scene.

Arsonists destroyed more than 3,300 vehicles and dozens of buildings since the unrest began. In an unprecedented show of hostility, gangs of youths yesterday also began increasing their attacks on police, hitting them with everything from rocks to Molotov cocktails.

More than 800 people have been arrested, of which 20 have been convicted and sentenced to at least one year in prison.

Over the weekend, police also found a gasoline bomb-making workshop in a derelict building in Evry, south of Paris, with more than 100 bottles ready to be turned into Molotov cocktails, 50 more ready to use, as well as fuel stocks and hoods for hiding rioters' faces.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Justice Ministry official Jean-Marie Huet said the discovery shows that gasoline bombs "are not being improvised by kids in their bathrooms."

Mr. Hamon told AP that the rioters were also coordinating attacks through cell phone text messages as they gradually become better organized.

Reuters news agency quoted authorities saying drug traffickers and Islamist militants were also using the Internet to organize the unrest.

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