French Officials Act to End Two Weeks of Riots
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I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
Rioters in France have been attacking cars, businesses and public buildings for more than two weeks. French officials now say violence levels have begun to decrease.
The violence is the country's worst since a series of student protests in Paris in nineteen sixty-eight. Efforts to halt the protests led to a nationwide strike that threatened the French government.
The current unrest began last month after two young people were accidentally killed at an electric power station. They were apparently hiding from police. The two were of North African ancestry. Their deaths incited riots in communities with large African and Arab populations.
The violence intensified and spread from Paris to other parts of France on the eleventh night. Riots were reported in many areas, including Toulouse, Cannes, Nice, and Strasbourg -- the headquarters of the European Parliament. More than five thousand vehicles have been burned since the unrest began. One man beaten by rioters has died. Police have arrested more than two thousand people.
The French government has been criticized for reacting slowly to the violence. Ministers have held emergency meetings to discuss affected areas. On Sunday, President Jacques Chirac met with top security officials. Mr. Chirac said that those involved in the violence must be punished. "The last word," he said, "must be from the law."
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has been working with leaders of poor communities to discuss their concerns. He has ordered extra police to help the officers already deployed in the affected areas. He also re-established a law permitting local governments to order curfews. The law has not been in effect since the Algerian war of independence more than forty years ago.
Other European countries are nervously watching the situation. They fear the riots could spread throughout the European Union. France has about five million Muslims. They represent about ten percent of the French population. Belgium, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain also have Muslim minority populations. These nations worry that criminals or militants may seek out angry young Arabs for acts of violence.
Many of the rioters in France are the children or grandchildren of North Africans who settled there in the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties. They are angry about disputes with police, their treatment in French society and unemployment.
The national unemployment rate in France is about ten percent. Many of those without jobs are young Muslims. Anger over social and cultural policies may be fueling the riots. The terrorist attacks against the United States four years ago led to new laws in European countries. The French government has taken steps against suspected Islamic extremists. It also has banned Muslim head coverings and other religious objects from public schools.
IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Jill Moss. I'm Steve Ember.