Police in riot gear fired rubber bullets at advancing gangs of youths in Aulnay-sous-Bois - one of the worst-hit suburbs - where 15 cars were burned Tuesday night, officials said on Wednesday.

Youths lobbed Molotov cocktails at an annex to the town hall and threw stones at the firehouse. It was not immediately clear whether the clashes led to any injuries.
 
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told Europe-1 radio that police detained 34 people overnight. Sarkozy - blamed by many for fanning the violence with tough talk and harsh tactics - defended his approach and vowed to restore calm.

The minister recently called the rioters "scum" and has vowed to "clean out" Paris' troubled suburbs.

"I speak with real words," Sarkozy told Wednesday's Le Parisien newspaper. "When you fire real bullets at police, you're not a 'youth,' you're a thug."

Suburban unrest

Four people were arrested for throwing stones at police in Bondy where 14 cars were burned, the prefecture said. A fire engulfed a carpet store, but it was not known whether the blaze was linked to the suburban unrest.

Officials gave an initial count of 69 vehicles torched in nine suburbs across the Seine-Saint-Denis region that arcs around Paris on the north and northeast.

A damaged truck in the northern
Paris suburb of Sevran

The area, home mainly to families of immigrant origin, most of them from Muslim North Africa, is marked by soaring unemployment and delinquency.

Officials said "small, very mobile gangs" were harassing police and setting fires to garbage cans and vehicles throughout the region.

France-Info said about 150 fires were burning in suburbs of the Seine-Saint-Denis region.

Sarkozy - blamed by many for fanning the violence with tough talk and harsh tactics - met in Paris with youths and officials from Clichy-sous-Bois in an effort to end days of rioting.

But the unrest spread even as they met.