Fewer cars were torched nationwide and calm was returning to Paris despite an alert that sent thousands of riot police into the capital's streets.

In scattered attacks, youths rammed a burning car into a centre for retirees in Provence and pelted police with stones in the historic heart of Lyon.

A firebomb was tossed at a Lyon mosque but did not explode. The regional government responded by banning potentially disruptive public gatherings in parts of central Lyon on Sunday afternoon.

Recovery plan

The nationwide storm of arson attacks, rioting and other violence has lost steam since Wednesday, when France declared a state of emergency. Youths set fire to 374 parked vehicles on Saturday leading into Sunday, police said, compared to 502 the previous night.

Sarkozy was criticised for
calling rioters "scum"

A week ago, 1400 cars were incinerated in a single night.

If the downward trend continues, "things could return to normal very quickly," National Police Chief Michel Gaudin said.

On an average Saturday night in France, he said, youths burn about 100 cars.

Officials are already turning their attention to helping riot-hit towns recover.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso proposed that the European Union give 50 million euros (US$58 million) to France, and said it could make up to 1 billion euros (US$1.17 billion) available in longer-term support for suburban jobs and social cohesion.

Poor suburbs

The 17 days of unrest - sparked by the accidental electrocution deaths of two teens who thought police were chasing them - began in Paris' poor, disenfranchised suburbs, where many immigrants from North and West Africa live with their French-born children in high-rise housing projects.

The mayhem, France's worst since the 1968 student-worker protests, has forced the country to confront anger stemming from decades of racial discrimination, crowded housing and unemployment.

French police say the number of
cars torched is going down

The national jobless rate is nearly 10%; for young people in housing projects it climbs to 40%.

Venissieux, a suburb of the southeastern city of Lyon, was one of about 40 towns to impose a curfew for minors under the state-of-emergency measures.

"What's the point? There's not a war here!" young people cried out to patrolling police in one troubled neighborhood.

Emergency law

The Cabinet planned to propose a bill on Monday allowing an extension of the 12-day state of emergency if needed.

"Things could return to normal very quickly"

Michel Gaudin,
National Police Chief

Also, France was expected in the next few days to start deporting foreigners implicated in the violence - a plan by
law-and-order Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy that has caused divisions in the government.

Azouz Begag, the equal opportunities minister who comes from an immigrant shantytown near Lyon, told Le Parisien newspaper he would privately raise the issue with Sarkozy.

Begag recently criticised the interior minister for referring to young troublemakers as "scum".

Chirac unpopular

A poll in Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper suggested Sarkozy was the politician French people trusted most to solve the suburban troubles.

Some 53% said they supported him - while about 71% said they lacked confidence in President Jacques Chirac.

Nearly a quarter said they trusted far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, Chirac's main challenger in the 2002 presidential race. Le Pen has seized on the violence to promote his National Front party's "zero immigration" platform.

While Paris has been mostly calm since unrest broke out 27 October, calls for "violent action" in the capital on Saturday night were posted on internet blogs and sent in text messages to cell phones.