By ELAINE GANLEY, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 17 minutes ago
PARIS – Ten nights of urban unrest that brought thousands of arson attacks on cars, nursery schools and other targets from the Mediterranean to the German border reached Paris where at least 28 cars were burned overnight in the French capital, government officials said Sunday.
Some 2,300 police poured into the Paris region to bolster security on a restive Saturday night while firefighters moved out around the city to douse blazing vehicles.
At least 918 vehicles — including those in Paris — were burned during the 10th night of violence, said the Interior Ministry’s operational center tracking the violence. There was no word yet on damage in Paris to shops, gymnasiums, nursery schools and other targets which have been attacked around the country.
Police made 186 arrests nationwide overnight.
For the second night in a row, a helicopter equipped with spotlights and video cameras to track bands of marauding youths combed the poor, heavily immigrant Seine-Saint-Denis region, northeast of Paris, where the violence has been concentrated. Small teams of police were deployed to chase down rioters speeding from one attack to another in cars and on motorbikes.
On Friday night, 900 vehicles were torched across France in the worst wave of arson since the urban unrest began.
The violence — originally concentrated in neighborhoods northeast of Paris with large populations of Arab and African Muslim immigrants — has now spread across France, extending west to the rolling fields of Normandy and south to resort cities on the Mediterranean.
The Normandy town of Evreux, 60 miles west of Paris, appeared to suffer the worst damage Saturday. Arsonists burned at least 50 vehicles, part of a shopping center, a post office and two schools, said Patrick Hamon, spokesman for the national police. Five police officers and three firefighters were injured battling the Evreux blazes, Hamon said.
Attacks were also reported in Cannes and Nice.
The violence erupted Oct. 27 following the accidental electrocution of two teenagers who hid in a power substation, apparently believing police were chasing them. One of the dead teenagers was born in Mauritania and the second teenager’s family was from Tunisia — both Muslim countries.
Anger was fanned days ago when a tear gas bomb exploded in a mosque in Clichy-sous-Bois — the northern suburb where the youths were electrocuted.
The unrest is forcing France to confront long-simmering anger in poor suburbs ringing the big cities which are mainly populated by immigrants and their French-born families, often from Muslim North Africa. They are marked by high unemployment, discrimination and despair — fertile terrain for crime of all sorts and Muslim extremists offering frustrated youths a way out.
Government officials have held a series of meetings with Muslim religious leaders, local officials and youths from poor suburbs to try to calm the violence.
The director of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, one of the country’s leading Muslim figures, met Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Saturday and urged the government to choose its words carefully and send a message of peace.
«In such difficult circumstances, every word counts,» Boubakeur said.
The anger over the death of the teenagers spread to the Internet, with sites 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.
Arsonists have also burned grocery stores, video stores and other businesses in what Hamon called «copycat» crimes. «All these hoodlums see others setting fires and say they can do it, too.»
The unrest has taken on unprecedented scope and intensity, reaching far-flung corners of France on Saturday, from Rouen in Normandy to Bordeaux in the southwest to Strasbourg near the German border.
However, the Paris region has borne the brunt.
In quiet Acheres, on the edge of the St. Germain forest west of Paris, arsonists burned a nursery school, where part of the roof caved in, and about a dozen cars.
Children’s photos clung to the blackened walls, and melted plastic toys littered the floor. Residents gathered at the school gate, demanding that the army be deployed or suggesting that citizens band together to protect their neighborhoods.
Cars were torched in the cultural bastion of Avignon in the south and the resort cities of Nice and Cannes, a police officer said.
Arson was reported in Nantes in the southwest, the Lille region in the north and Saint-Dizier in the Ardennes region east of Paris. In the eastern city of Strasbourg, 18 cars were set alight in full daylight, police said.
In one 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 and then torched the waiting ambulance, an Interior Ministry official said.
Most of the overnight arrests were near Paris. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy warned that those convicted could face severe sentences for burning cars.
«Violence penalizes those who live in the toughest conditions,» he said after a government crisis meeting.
Sarkozy also has inflamed passions by referring to troublemakers as «scum.»
Most rioting has been in towns with low-income housing projects where unemployment and distrust of police run high. But in a new development, arsonists were moving beyond their heavily policed neighborhoods to attack others with less security, Hamon said.
«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, 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,» he said.
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.
On Saturday morning, more than 1,000 people marched through one of the worst-hit suburbs, Aulnay-sous-Bois. Local officials wore sashes in the red, white and blue of the French flag as they filed past housing projects and the wrecks of burned cars. One white banner read, «No to violence.»
Associated Press reporters Jamey Keaten and Angela Doland in Paris and John Leicester in Acheres contributed to this report.
By ELAINE GANLEY, Associated Press Writer