France violence claims first victim

Rioting by French youths spread to 300 towns overnight and a man hurt in the violence died of his wounds, the first fatality in 11 days of unrest that has shocked the country, police said on Monday.

    Civil unrest has spread to towns across much of the country

    As urban unrest spread to neighbouring Belgium and possibly Germany, the French government faced growing criticism for its inability to stop the violence, despite massive police deployment and continued calls for calm.

    On Sunday night, vandals burned more than 1400 vehicles, and clashes around the country left 36 police injured, setting a new high for overnight arson and violence since rioting started on 27 October, Michel Gaudin told a news conference.

    Travel warning

    Australia, Austria, Britain, Germany and Hungary advised

    their citizens to exercise care in France, joining the

    United States and Russia in warning tourists to stay away

    from violence-hit areas.

    Sarkozy sparked anger when he
    described rioters as scum

    Alain Rahmouni, a national police spokesman, said a man

    who was beaten died at a hospital from injuries sustained

    in the attack, but he had no immediate details of the

    victim's age or his attacker.

    The man was caught by surprise after

    rushing out of his apartment building to put out a

    fire in a rubbish bin, Rahmouni said.

    Apparent copycat attacks spread outside France for the

    first time, with five cars torched outside Brussels' main

    train station, police in the Belgian capital said.

    Nationwide unrest

    The mayhem started as an outburst of anger in suburban

    Paris housing projects and has fanned out nationwide among

    disaffected youths, mostly of Muslim or African origin, to

    become France's worst civil unrest in more than a decade.

    Attacks overnight on Sunday to Monday were reported in 274

    towns, and police made 395 arrests, Gaudin said.

    On Sunday night a total of 1400
    vehicles were burned 

    "This spread, with a sort of shock wave spreading across

    the country, shows up in the number of towns affected,"

    Gaudin said, noting that the violence appeared to be

    sliding away from its flashpoint in the Parisian suburbs

    and worsening elsewhere.

    It was the first time police had been injured by weapons'

    fire and there were signs that rioters were deliberately

    seeking out clashes with police, officials said.

    Among the injured police, 10 were hurt by youths firing

    fine-grain birdshot in a late-night clash in the southern

    Paris suburb of Grigny, national police spokesman Patrick

    Hamon said. Two were hospitalised, but their lives were not

    considered in danger. One was wounded in the neck, the

    other in the legs.

    Racism and poverty

    The unrest began on 27 October in the low-income Paris suburb of

    Clichy-sous-Bois, after the deaths of two teenagers of

    Mauritanian and Tunisian origin. The youths were

    accidentally electrocuted as they hid from police in a

    power substation.

    They apparently thought they were being

    chased.

    President Jacques Chirac (R)
    vowed to get tough on the rioters

    All told, 4700 cars have been burned in France since the

    rioting began and 1200 suspects have been detained, at least

    temporarily, Gaudin said.

    The growing violence is forcing France to confront

    long-simmering anger in its suburbs, where many Africans

    and their French-born children live on society's margins,

    struggling with high unemployment, racial discrimination

    and despair - fertile terrain for crime of all sorts as

    well as for Muslim extremists offering frustrated youths a

    way out.

    France, with 5 million Muslims, has the largest

    Muslim population in Western Europe.

    Fatwa against violence

    President Jacques Chirac, whose government is under

    intense pressure to halt the violence, promised stern

    punishment for those behind the attacks, making his first

    public comments on Sunday since the riots started.

    "The law must have the last word," Chirac said on Sunday

    after a security meeting with top ministers. France is

    determined "to be stronger than those who want to sow

    violence or fear, and they will be arrested, judged and

    punished".

    One of France's Muslim organisations, the

    Union for Islamic Organisations of France, issued a fatwa (

    religious decree). It forbade all those "who seek divine

    grace from taking part in any action that blindly strikes

    private or public property or can harm others".

    Arsonists burned two schools and a bus in the central city

    of Saint-Etienne and its suburbs, and two people were

    injured in the bus attack. Churches were set ablaze in

    northern Lens and southern Sete, he said.

    In Colombes in suburban Paris, youths pelted a bus with

    rocks, sending a 13-month-old child to the hospital with a

    head injury, Hamon said, while a daycare centre was burned

    in Saint-Maurice, another Paris suburb.

    Much of the youths' anger has focused on law-and-order

    Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, whose reference to the

    troublemakers as "scum" appeared to inflame passions.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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