Violence and arson spilled from the suburbs of Paris to at least 15 cities across France Saturday, as police and government officials struggled unsuccessfully for the 10th day to stem the expanding unrest.
Early Sunday, the Interior Ministry said the disturbances had spread to the capital itself where 11 vehicles were burned, the Associated Press reported.
Police said groups of young men torched nearly 900 vehicles and at least a dozen schools, police stations and youth centers around the country. Though the unrest remained concentrated in the poor suburbs ringing Paris, violence erupted in Strasbourg near the German border, Bordeaux in the southwest, Rouen in Normandy and Orleans in the Loire Valley.
Tactics were similar in all areas: mobile bands of youths set random blazes, according to police and local news media accounts. Police responded more aggressively -- about 258 suspects were arrested Friday night -- but remained largely helpless in preventing the violence, the most serious to hit France since the student riots of 1968.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin called eight ministers and a senior Muslim cleric to his offices in an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss the violence, but President Jacques Chirac maintained his silence. Chirac has not publicly addressed the crisis since it began Oct. 27 after two teenagers from the Paris suburbs were electrocuted at a power substation while dodging a police checkpoint.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who called the rioters "scum" in the opening days of unrest, toned down his language to reporters after Saturday's emergency meeting. "Violence is not a solution," Sarkozy said. "Once the crisis is over, everyone will have to understand there are a certain number of injustices in some neighborhoods. We are trying to be firm and avoid any provocation. We have to avoid any risk of explosion."
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, told reporters after the meeting: "What I want from authorities -- from Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, the prime minister and senior officials -- are words of peace."
While fewer incidents of arson were reported in the towns hardest-hit in the first days of rioting, violence flared dramatically in other surrounding communities, police reported.
Youths in the eastern suburban town of Meaux hurled rocks at paramedics attempting to evacuate a sick patient from a housing project, then set the waiting ambulance ablaze, according to police. In the town of Acheres, west of Paris, rioters burned a nursery school and a dozen cars. In Torcey, to the east of the city, rioters set a youth center and a police station ablaze.
Police said almost 900 cars, trucks and buses were torched, nearly twice the number as the previous night.
Residents and civic leaders held small, quiet marches in several towns in the Paris suburbs to protest the violence. In Aulnay-sous-Bois, Nadjia Chouiter, a 16-year-old student, joined about 300 demonstrators who marched behind a firetruck with rock-shattered windows.
"I'm here because we're sick of the violence," she said. "And we're scared."