Addressing the nation on Monday for the first time since the unrest erupted nearly three weeks ago, Chirac said he had asked parliament to extend a state of emergency declared on 9 November beyond 12 days to three months.

Lawmakers were to debate the issue on Tuesday.

Chirac also announced the creation of national volunteer corps to provide job training for 50,000 youths by 2007.

The president said in the coming days he would meet business and labour leaders to discuss workforce diversity and more jobs for youths from underprivileged neighbourhoods.

"We can build nothing lasting if we allow racism, intolerance, and abuse," Chirac said in a televised speech.

"We can build nothing lasting unless we fight this poison for society that is discrimination."

Integration failure

The crisis has led to collective soul-searching about France's failure to integrate its African and Muslim minorities.

More than 160 vehicles were
torched overnight on Monday

Anger about high unemployment and discrimination has fanned frustration among the French-born children of immigrants from France's former colonies.

Chirac appealed for all to help eliminate attitudes that lead to youths not being considered for jobs because they have a non-French name, a suburban postal code or the wrong skin-colour.

"It's about giving young people the same job opportunities," Chirac said. "How many CVs end up in the trash bin because of the applicant's name or address?"

Even as Chirac spoke, the violence continued for a 19th night, with at least one attack targeting Muslims.

Mosque attacked

Vandals threw three firebombs at a mosque in Saint-Chamond in the Loire region, causing minor damage, the national police said on Tuesday. It was the third attack of its kind on a mosque since Friday.

There have been three firebomb
attacks on mosques since Friday

However, the number of incidents continued to drop overnight, with youths setting fire to 162 vehicles by 4am (0300 GMT) on Tuesday, compared with 271 at the same time a day earlier, the national police said.

Forty-two people were arrested, compared with 112 at the same time the night before.

The numbers have fallen steadily since vandals burned 1408 vehicles across France on 6 November at the peak of the violence. Police say French youths burn about 100 cars on an average Saturday night.

The state of emergency gives the regional authorities the power to call curfews, conduct day-and-night searches of homes or deport foreigners convicted in the violence.

Far-right critical

About 40 towns, including France's third-largest city, Lyon, have used the measure, imposing curfews on minors.

Jean-Marie Le Pen has criticised
France's immigration policy

The unrest was set off by the accidental electrocution deaths of two teenagers of African descent on 27 October as they hid from police in a power substation in the northeast Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.

But the decision to extend the state of emergency until mid-February made clear that the authorities fear the riots could flare again.

The far right, which blames French ills on immigration, has highlighted the unrest.

At a rally on Monday that drew about 300 supporters, National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who faced off with Chirac in the 2002 election, castigated immigration policy.

"We let in 10 million foreigners over 30 years - it's wild insanity. No country can handle that invasion," Le Pen said.