Emergency Measures Appear to Decrease Violence in France

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The violence that has swept across France for almost two weeks appears to be waning as the government imposes emergency measures. It's been over two weeks since riots were sparked by the accidental deaths of two teenagers allegedly hiding from police.


Unrest continued last night in France, but the violence seemed significantly lower. It's been over two weeks since riots were sparked by the accidental deaths of two teen-agers who were reportedly hiding from police. NPR's Deborah Amos joins us now from Paris.

Deborah, thanks for being with us.

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And tell us about last night. Violence seemed significantly lower, and yet, of course, it has not been abolished, by any means.

AMOS: True. North of Paris, Scott, there was an electrical substation that was targeted, turned off the lights in some neighborhoods. And the count of burned cars overnight, which seems to be the official way to measure the violence, was slightly up. The head of the Paris police said he can't claim victory yet. Still, there's a general feeling the worst may be over for now. However, in the capital, there's concern that Paris might be a target on this three-day weekend. It seems that the police intercepted some telephone text messages and some notices posted on the Internet, which is the way the protests have been organized, calling for violence here. So in response there are thousands of cops on the street, large gatherings are outlawed, and there's a ban on the sale of gasoline in small cans. That's what the rioters used to make those firebombs.

SIMON: Which brings us to the circumstance of two Molotov cocktails that were apparently--which, of course, an incendiary device, homemade--were thrown at a mosque overnight. And of course, among the possibilities this raises is that people were protesting the riots and that's why the attack occurred, or it could be that there were young men--perhaps young women, probably young men--who were objecting to some of the imams who have been calling for the violence to end. Any connection with the riots at all?

AMOS: I think that's unclear, but what is clear is the government is worried that any incident could set off things again. So after the firebomb in the mosque, this is a town known for its extreme right-wing politics, anti-immigration. The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, sent a letter of regret to the Muslim community there, and he said very publicly that these attacks are utterly unacceptable. At the same time, the government has taken action against violent police officers. At least one has been arrested so far. Some more are under investigation. Remember, it was the death of two teen-agers in a Paris suburb that sparked the violence in the first place. They were running from police; they jumped the fence of an electrical plant. And somehow they were electrocuted. So the French government wants to do everything it can to prevent another provocation.

SIMON: There's been--can you notice this, Deborah? There's been a change in police tactics?

AMOS: There has been a change in police tactics. But I think there are some other things at work. For one thing, the weather is colder and rainier...


AMOS: ...and that keeps some of the young kids indoors. There's also carrot and sticks on offer, so it's the tough measures. Thousands have been arrested. There's high fines, months in jail. Another thing, Scott, is they're pursuing lawsuits against parents for the actions of their kids.

SIMON: Yeah.

AMOS: The problem for the government now is they're using a 1955 law to set in place these emergency measures. They've only got 12 days under this law; otherwise, the prime minister has to go back to Parliament and ask for another law. Plenty of politicians don't like it; may not give it to them. So they have just a few more days to use these curfews and these emergency measures.

SIMON: NPR's Deborah Amos in Paris. Thank you.

AMOS: Thank you, Scott.

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