- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

BOBIGNY, France — A 10-day rampage by angry immigrant youths spread last night and early today from the suburbs of Paris to the heart of the capitaland from Normandy in the west to Mediterranean cities of the south.

Muslim leaders made fruitless appeals for calm and police teams began chasing rioters, mostly Arab and African youths, as they sped from one attack to another in cars and on motorbikes. New security tactics yielded hundreds of arrests by early today.

In Grigny, a suburb south of Paris, residents fed up with the violence pitched in, hauling young rioters to police.

For the first time, the unrest spread to central Paris, where a Molotov cocktail was hurled at cars near the busy Place de la Republique. At least a dozen cars were burned near City Hall, police said.

By 1 a.m. this morning, at least 607 vehicles — including those in central Paris — had been set ablaze, said Patrick Hamon, spokesman for the national police. The overall figures were expected to climb by daybreak.

“The anger of the rioters will not be quelled so easily,” said Karim Benkouachi, a resident of one embattled neighborhood.

“This was a time bomb waiting to explode,” he said. “For years, government leaders have promised changes but have done nothing.”

Attacks were reported in Cannes and Nice. In the Normandy town of Evreux, arsonists burned at least 50 vehicles, part of a shopping center, a post office and two schools, the police spokesman, Mr. Hamon, said.

Five police officers and three firefighters were injured battling the blazes, he said.

More than 2,300 police officers fanned out across the Paris suburbs, focusing on sensitive areas such as Seine-Saint-Denis, where rioting began more than a week ago after the electrocution of two youths hiding from police at a power station.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin yesterday met with government ministers to work out a plan for ending the violence.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has come under fire for his handling of the crisis, declared that the government was unanimous in its position to be “firm.”

“Violence is not a solution,” he told reporters after the meeting. “Once the crisis is over, everyone will have to understand there are a certain number of injustices in some neighborhoods. We are trying to be firm and to avoid any provocation,” he said.

In quiet Acheres, on the edge of the St. Germain forest west of the capital, arsonists burned a nursery school, where part of the roof caved in, and about a dozen cars in four attacks over an hour that the mayor said seemed “perfectly organized.”

Children’s photos clung to the blackened walls, and melted plastic toys littered the floor. Residents gathered at the school gate demanded that the army be deployed or suggested that they band together to protect their neighborhoods. Mayor Alain Outreman tried to cool tempers.

“We are not going to start militias,” he said. “You would have to be everywhere.”

In one particularly malevolent attack, youths in the eastern Paris suburb of Meaux prevented paramedics from evacuating a sick person from a housing project. They pelted rescuers with rocks, then torched the waiting ambulance, an Interior Ministry official said.

By daybreak yesterday, 897 vehicles were destroyed — a sharp rise from the 500 burned a night earlier, police said.

It was the worst one-day toll since the unrest erupted Oct. 27 after the accidental electrocution of the two teenagers who hid in a power substation, apparently believing police were chasing them.

Fires were reported in regions as spread out as Avignon in the south of France, Lille in the north and Toulouse in the southwest.

Anger also spread to the Internet, with blogs mourning the youths.

Along with messages of condolence and appeals for calm were insults targeting police, threats of more violence and warnings that the unrest will feed support for France’s anti-immigration extreme right.

“Civil war is declared. There will no doubt be deaths. Unfortunately, we have to prepare,” said a posting signed “Rania.”

“We are going to destroy everything. Rest in peace, guys,” wrote “Saint Denis.”

Most rioting has been in towns with low-income housing projects populated by first- and second-generation immigrants, mostly Muslims from Africa.

But in a new development, arsonists were moving beyond their heavily policed neighborhoods to attack others with less security, said a national police spokesman, Patrick Hamon.

“They are very mobile, in cars or scooters. … It is quite hard to combat,” he said. “Most are young, very young; we have even seen young minors.”

There appeared to be no coordination between separate groups in different areas, Mr. Hamon said. But within gangs, he added, youths are communicating by cell phones or e-mails. “They organize themselves, arrange meetings, some prepare the Molotov cocktails.”

In Torcy, close to Disneyland Paris, a youth center and a police station were set ablaze. In Suresnes, on the Seine River west of the capital, 44 cars were burned in a parking lot.

“We thought Suresnes was calm,” said Naima Mouis, a hospital employee whose car was torched into a twisted hulk of metal.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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