Riots Continue in Paris, Despite Emergency Efforts

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France is seeing fewer cars burned and fewer clashes with police, but civil unrest continues for a 13th night across the country despite emergency security measures.


It was a familiar scene across France last night. Cars being torched, Molotov cocktails being thrown and curfews in effect. In several cities, security measures that were imposed by yesterday's state of emergency were ignored, but the level of violence is reported to be somewhat less as the citizens of France face their 13th straight night of unrest. Reporter Eleanor Beardsley joins me from Paris.

And tell us what the situation is today.


Well, Renee, the situation is improved. The daily barometer, which is how many cars have burned, has been cut in half. Six hundred cars burned last night compared with 1,200 the night before. There have been fewer clashes with police, less violence in the Paris area. Clashes took place more in the provinces, Lille, Bordeaux, Toulouse. And really, you can tell just by watching the French news, the first story at least is, you know, about the violence and after that they go onto something else whereas yesterday it just inundated coverage. That was the only thing anybody was talking about.

MONTAGNE: You know, it might be important to clarify here--we talk about suburbs, but they're quite different, the suburbs ringing Paris and other cities that are now where all the violence is going on. They're not suburbs in the sense that Americans understand.

BEARDSLEY: That's correct, Renee. It's sort of the opposite of the American situation. The well-off people, the rich people, stayed inside the cities, whereas the poor people were relegated to the suburbs, which are really these high-rise projects, as they could be called--just blocks of high-rise apartment buildings housing a lot of, you know, first, second and third-generation immigrants and people who don't have the means to live inside the cities.

MONTAGNE: And few jobs and few services there.

BEARDSLEY: Yes, of course. In these areas the unemployment level is sometimes five times what it is in the rest of France, and fewer social services and just less support for people.

MONTAGNE: There have been new security measures put in place, including curfews which were given the go-ahead by the government. How did they work? And were they working?

BEARDSLEY: Well, only a handful of towns actually put the curfews in place, but no major problems are being reported. The big impact of these emergency measures, and especially the curfew, is psychological, Renee. Because the curfew is associated with the Algerian war for independence which was in the late '50s, early '60s, where France was divided and there was a lot of civil unrest. And that's the last time curfews have been used. So in people's minds it's a really harsh emergency state measure. Now this being said, 73 percent of the population do support these emergency measures, so they're in support of the government's hard-line stance. Whether they will work or not, we have to wait a few days to see. Last night was a good indication, but many people are saying, `Let's wait until the weekend when violence is likely to escalate again.'

MONTAGNE: There have been repeated calls for the resignation of the country's interior minister. He's a hard-line guy, name of Nicolas Sarkozy. Any chance that will happen?

BEARDSLEY: Probably not, but one thing we can see is a change of tone with Nicolas Sarkozy. Today he was talking with the police and it was all over television. And he's telling them, you know, `Do not use force unless you have to. And with these kids, speak with them respectfully.' And something very funny. He's telling them to use the formal form of `you,' because in French there's two forms of `you:' the familiar and the formal. And he's telling them use the formal form of `you' with these youths. And just weeks ago, he was referring to them as hoodlums and scum, so there's definitely a change of tone on his part.

MONTAGNE: And the political fallout? This violence has been going on for just about two weeks--just one day short of two weeks--and out of control at different points. What might come of that?

BEARDSLEY: Exactly. Well, the government seemed to be tone deaf to what's going on in these suburbs. I mean, it just exploded, and it's almost as if they didn't realize, you know, what was going on. Chirac didn't even speak to the nation for--until the violence had happened for 10 days. And I think the big point is, once again, French politics is decided in the street. The leaders are not leading. They are following the curve. They are following the events. So it--French politics takes place in the streets.

MONTAGNE: Eleanor, thank you. Reporter Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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