Chirac speaks of inequalities leading to riots
French officials say violence abating, but risk remains
PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac, for the first time, yesterday directly addressed the inequalities and discrimination that have fueled two weeks of rioting across France, saying the country has ''undeniable problems" in its poor neighborhoods.
Violence appeared to have continued to slow under state-of-emergency measures and heavy policing, with far fewer skirmishes and fewer cars burned.
Police authorities, meanwhile, suspended eight officers; two were suspected of having beaten a man detained in the riots.
''Things are calming," Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said on France-2 television. ''But that doesn't mean it won't restart."
Chirac had kept largely silent about France's worst unrest since the 1968 uprising by students and workers, and had spoken publicly about the crisis only once, in a brief address on security measures. But yesterday he said that once order is restored, France will have to ''draw the consequences of this crisis, and do so with a lot of courage and lucidity."
''There is a need to respond strongly and rapidly to the undeniable problems faced by many residents of underprivileged neighborhoods around our cities," he said at a news conference held with Spain's visiting prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
''Whatever our origins, we are all the children of the republic and we can all expect the same rights," Chirac said.
But he also put blame on parents, saying that ''too many minors" have joined the violence and that some had been ''pushed to the fore by their elders."
The unrest started among youths in Clichy-sous-Bois, a northwestern suburb of Paris, who were angry about the accidental electrocutions of two teenagers. It rapidly grew into a nationwide wave of arson and nightly clashes between rioters armed with firebombs and police retaliating with tear gas.
The crisis has led to a collective soul-searching about France's inability to integrate its African and Muslim minorities into the economy. Anger about high unemployment and discrimination has fanned frustration among the French-born children of immigrants from former colonies, many of them with North African roots.
Ahmed Zbeul, a 20-year-old who grew up in Clichy-sous-Bois, said he had stopped looking for a job and had joined the rampage.
''Maybe I burned cars. I know it's not very nice of me but, to be honest, I am happy that things heated up everywhere to let everybody know that we are sick of it," said Zbeul, who was at a courthouse yesterday to support friends on trial for theft.
Sarkozy, the embattled interior minister who called some of the rioters ''scum," said fear was the worst factor in the troubled areas. He vowed to dismantle gangs and bands of drug traffickers who he said make up a tiny minority but ruin life for others.
''If we get rid of those poisoning the lives of others, we will have taken a first step," he said in an interview with France-2.
The government has taken a tough stance on rioters. Sarkozy has said local authorities were instructed to deport foreigners convicted of involvement.
The antiracism group SOS-Racisme said it had filed a complaint with the Council of State, France's highest administrative body.
''Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal is illegal," organization president Dominique Sopo said.
In La Courneuve, north of Paris, two police officers were suspected of having dealt ''unwarranted blows" to a man who had been taken in for questioning, the Interior Ministry said.
The officers were suspended, along with six others suspected of witnessing the purported beating Monday.
The Mediterranean resort region of the Alpes-Maritimes ordered curfews for minors in 21 towns Wednesday, but yesterday the measures were lifted in seven places, including Cannes.
In Paris, and in much of the rest of the country, the emergency had no perceptible effect. Justice Minister Pascal Clément said that only two people had been arrested for violating curfews.