RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The other story is in France where the Parliament votes today to extend by three months special emergency powers. The government of President Jacques Chirac requested the extension despite the recent fall in violence by largely youths of African and Arab origin. The emergency powers will allow police to impose curfews and conduct searches without a warrant. Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:

In a 15-minute prime-time address to the nation last night, President Jacques Chirac explained why the emergency measures were being extended. What the country had lived through in the last two weeks, he said, was gravely serious.

President JACQUES CHIRAC (France): (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: `France is suffering a crisis of meaning, a crisis of orientation, a crisis of identity,' said the French president, `and we will respond by being firm, by being fair and by being true to the values of the French republic.'

Chirac was giving the government the means to fight back, he said, because the nation's top priority was the re-establishment of public order. Chirac also called the state's political will and financial engagement to address the root causes of the violence as unprecedented, and he vowed that the country would fight the poison of discrimination.

Pres. CHIRAC: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: `I want to say to the children living in difficult neighborhoods, whatever their origin, that they are all sons and daughters of the French republic,' he said.

On October 27th, two teen-agers of the French republic, sons of African immigrants, allegedly chose to risk their lives hiding in a power substation rather than face a police check.

(Soundbite of rioters yelling in French)

BEARDSLEY: The anger over their unfortunate deaths sparked two weeks of rioting in disadvantaged immigrant communities across the country. More than 8,000 cars were burned, scores of shops, schools and buildings wrecked, and dozens of policemen injured. But the real damage, it seems, has been to the country's sense of identity, its very notions of French liberte, egalite, fraternite.

(Soundbite of people speaking in French)

BEARDSLEY: In an intensity rarely seen, a debate is raging across the country, on television and radio, in restaurants and in the streets about inequality and integration and one's chances in life. And the cherished French republican model, a system thought to so guarantee equality among citizens that racial statistics aren't kept and affirmative action isn't needed, is now being questioned. Stefan Pocan(ph) is a black man and a leader of the Green Party. Last night Pocan was part of a roundtable debate on television to discuss what has gone wrong in France.

Mr. STEFAN POCAN (Green Party): (Through Translator) France is very passionate about words, but these words ring hollow today for so many youths. We can no longer just repeat empty mantras about equality and how the republic loves all its children no matter where they're from, because concretely for millions of people on the ground, it doesn't work that way.

BEARDSLEY: The government's plan to extend the emergency powers into the month of February is seen as excessive by many. Christoff Carege(ph), a Socialist Party congressman who plans to vote against the measure today, says it sends the wrong signal.

Mr. CHRISTOFF CAREGE (Socialist Party Congressman): (Through Translator) These emergency powers are unjustified and really of no more use. By extending them, we're placing France in a permanent crisis situation, and it certainly does not help the country's image abroad.

BEARDSLEY: Many here say the footage of burning cars and rioting youths in a handful of communities has been exaggerated by the world's media to claim that France is burning. France is not burning, said Jacques Chirac's spokesman, and tourists can visit without fear. At the same time, the extension of the state-of-emergency measures today speaks volumes about the depth of the crisis in French society. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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