'No social crisis'

Sarkozy was backed up by Fadela Amara, his urban affairs minister, who told Le Parisien newspaper that "what happened is not a social crisis".

"This is anarchic urban violence carried out by a minority, who tarnish the majority."

The president said that an action plan for poorer suburbs to be announced in January will focus on encouraging social mobility rather than on new building programmes.

He said: "The correct answer to riots is not more tax-payers' money. The correct response is to arrest the rioters.
  
"For those who want to get out and to whom the Republic must offer a helping hand, we undertake to give the possibility of training so that they can find work."

Government policy would be "more generous to those who want training and a job, a family and a home, and more severe to those whose only idea is to poison the lives of others," Sarkozy said.

Mass security

Villiers-le-Bel has now been calm for two nights, largely thanks to a mass security presence.

In neighbouring areas, police reported "a few dozen car and rubbish bins set alight."

Michele Alliot-Marie, the country's interior minister, said police reinforcements would be kept there for "a few more days".

More than 80 police have been hurt, some wounded by gunfire, since Sunday.

The president again promised to ensure that rioters who used firearms would be brought to justice.

Several police officers were wounded by hunting rifle buckshot and bullets, as well as metal debris shot from a makeshift gun.

Sarkozy said: "In a republic and in a democracy, you do not use fire-arms against the forces of law and order. Everything will be done to  catch them."

Popularity slips
 
Meanwhile, the president's public support has slipped below 50 per cent, according to a poll released on Thursday.

Forty-nine percent of respondents in a survey by TNS-Sofres said they trusted the president to resolve the country's problems, while 49 per cent said they did not.

A month ago, 53 per cent of respondents said they trusted his abilities.

Sarkozy's approval ratings remained high for months after his election in May, but have steadily declined this autumn as he has launched several difficult reform plans.

Over the past month, rail workers, civil servants and university students have staged strikes and protests against his plans to make the French economy more competitive, and less protective, and streamline bureaucracy.

Pessimism is also on the rise, with 73 per cent of respondents saying that "things are tending to get worse" in France, against just 13 per cent who think they are getting better.

A month ago, 62 per cent of people said things were worsening.

Pollsters questioned 1,000 people nationwide in face-to-face interviews.