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France Plans to Deport Rioters

Calm continues to replace street mayhem. But the move to expel noncitizens convicted in the violence may reignite tensions.

November 10, 2005|Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — The rioting that has engulfed France abated significantly Wednesday as authorities imposed curfews in 38 communities and said they would deport noncitizens convicted of participating in the violence.

After a massive deployment of law enforcement in recent days, the number of arson attacks on cars dropped by almost half overnight to 617. Police reported relative calm Wednesday in most trouble spots, including the tough housing projects outside Paris where the violence began two weeks ago.

"There are fewer and fewer significant incidents," Michel Gaudin, the director of the national police, said in a briefing. Only one police officer was slightly wounded overnight, he added, compared with many injuries a night during the peak of the disturbances.

But youths in Toulouse clashed with police Wednesday night and burned seven cars. Lyon's public transport had not fully recovered from a firebomb attack at a subway station Tuesday night that temporarily shut the underground system.

Police commanders in the field Wednesday said they were on guard against a resurgence of trouble. Friday is Armistice Day, and disturbances in some troubled areas often flare during long weekends and vacations.

Several police officials cited intelligence in the Paris region indicating that youth gangs might attempt an offensive during the weekend with a new strategy: hitting more affluent communities farther from the riot zones.

"Things are still tense," a high-ranking police official said. "Based on what we are hearing, I can't exclude the possibility that there could be mobile groups adapting to our defenses by changing strategy. They might go after wealthier suburbs, or Paris itself."

The capital has been untouched except for a few dozen car burnings. Tourists stroll around the monuments and museums, and the cafes, avenues and bridges spanning the Seine are bustling.

But even the trouble spots in the hardscrabble, immigrant-dominated suburbs north and northeast of Paris seem to be regaining a semblance of normality.

Authorities in Seine-Saint-Denis, the northeastern suburban zone where the riots began, decided not to use the curfew powers granted them by the government's declaration of a state of emergency. Elsewhere, curfews were imposed in 38 cities and towns Wednesday.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy announced Wednesday that immigrants who were not French citizens and were convicted of rioting would be deported. Many of the rioters are second- or third-generation French citizens whose families emigrated from Africa.

Sarkozy said about 120 immigrants had been convicted in fast-track trials of about 1,800 suspects arrested since the riots began Oct. 27.

Prefects, the top law enforcement officials in France's administrative regions, will be authorized to strip legal immigrants of their residency status as a result of criminal convictions, Sarkozy said. "I have asked the prefects to expel them without delay from our national territory, including those who have a legal residency permit," he said.

The announcement reflected the hard-charging style that has made Sarkozy the most prominent and controversial figure in the government's response to the riots. Detractors accuse him of using inflammatory language that has worsened the mayhem, whereas his admirers say he is a rare member of the French political elite who is in touch with the reality of the streets.

Despite his tough image, Sarkozy has gone against the political grain in recent years by proposing affirmative action programs for minorities and allowing legal immigrants to vote in municipal elections.

The deportation policy may increase tension among the North African community, some of whose leaders are dismayed by the government's state-of-emergency declaration, based on a rarely used 1955 law. Invoking the law, created during the war that led to Algeria's independence, recalls for many France's colonial past.

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