Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin made an unannounced visit Tuesday to a Paris suburb hit by rioting and said that a struggle against injustice and discrimination "should mobilize us all, every French man and woman."
Villepin traveled to Aulnay-sous-Bois, northeast of Paris, a day after President Jacques Chirac said in a televised address that the worst civil unrest in almost 40 years pointed to a deep national malaise and identity crisis.
After meeting with local residents, teachers and business leaders, Villepin voiced similar views and suggested there was a need to address societal injustices. "I heard a lot of people who really want to make progress, to get ahead, realize their projects, find a job," he said. "They should be helped."
Villepin later told Parliament that social unrest of "unprecedented gravity" justified extending for three months emergency powers that allow such steps as the imposition of curfews. "The situation remains serious in a great number of districts. We cannot accept that more than 200 cars burn each night," he said. In a vote, lawmakers passed a measure that was the first step toward extending the powers.
The unrest began Oct. 27 with the accidental deaths of two youths apparently fleeing police and quickly engulfed immigrant-dominated suburbs in towns and cities around France. The violence has destroyed about 8,500 vehicles and 100 public buildings. About 2,800 people have been detained and 600 jailed, Villepin said.
Police said Tuesday that 215 vehicles had been destroyed the previous night, an "almost normal" level. The torching of cars by gangs has been common for years in France's depressed and sometimes lawless immigrant neighborhoods.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, launching the emergency powers debate in Parliament, said that 75 to 80 percent of the people arrested in rioting were already known to police. He asserted that there was a clear link between unrest and zones targeted in a crackdown on crime gangs.
Sarkozy said procedures were underway to expel 10 foreigners found to have taken part in the violence.
A court in northern Arras on Tuesday sentenced a 20-year-old man to four years in prison for setting fire to a furniture shop during the riots. Damage was estimated at about $14.5 million, and 16 people lost their jobs because of the fire.
"I wanted to do like the others, that's all," the man said.