Police said more than 160 cars were torched in the Paris region and another 33 in riots elsewhere in the country.

But they said the night seemed calmer than Thursday when 315 vehicles were set ablaze.

On Friday buses, fire engines and police were again pelted with stones in the Paris suburbs, with five policemen reported slightly injured by projectiles.

One of the worst incidents took place at Neuilly-sur-Marne where police vans came under fire from pellet pistols, but nobody was hurt.

Neuilly-sur-Marne is in the worst-hit suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, northeast of Paris, where 1300 officers were deployed.

In the northern suburb of Stains, a fire was started in a primary school and police were targeted by a group of 30 to 40 youths near a local synagogue.

Copycat rampages

And for the first time since the troubles erupted on Thursday last week, there were sporadic signs of copycat rampages elsewhere in France.

Police said several cars in the eastern city of Dijon were set alight, while similar attacks took place in the western Seine-Maritime region and the Bouches-du-Rhone in the south of the country.

Villepin vowed to restore order

The sporadic incidents were a scaled-back version of the ferocious rioting that erupted eight days ago in Clichy-sous-Bois and spread across the troubled area of housing projects marked by soaring unemployment, delinquency and a sense of despair.

Facing mounting pressure, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told parliament that restoring order was his "absolute priority".

The rioting was a direct challenge to the authority of the French government and to de Villepin in particular.

Villepin on Thursday vowed that the authorities would not give in to the violence and would make restoring order their top priority.

"I will not allow organised gangs to make the law in the suburbs," he said.

The spark

The country has 751 neighbourhoods officially classed as severely disadvantaged, housing a total of five million people, around 8% of the population.  

The rioting is the worst France
has seen since the late 1980s

Conditions are often dire with high-rise housing, unemployment at twice the national rate of 10% and per capita incomes 40% below the national average.

 

Many of France's estimated five million Muslims live in those suburbs.

The rioting was sparked by the accidental deaths last week of two teenagers who hid in an electrical sub-station to escape a police identity check.

It's the worst urban violence France has seen since rioting in deprived high-immigration neighbourhoods in the late 1980s.   

Those responsible are groups of young Muslim men, the sons of families from France's former Arab and African colonial territories, who have said in interviews that they are protesting against economic misery, racial discrimination and provocative policing.

  

Small-scale suburban violence is a regular but unreported fact of life in many poor areas on the outskirts of major French cities.

 

According to the police intelligence service, a total of 28,000 cars were burnt across the country this year - even before the latest outbreak.