Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Tuesday that France faces a “moment of truth” in fighting racial discrimination that has inflamed tempers in suburbs with large immigrant populations. Speaking to a special session of the National Assembly called to address the wave of unrest, Villepin said France faced a choice between “division or coming together.”
“We must be lucid: The Republic is at a moment of truth,” Villepin said. “What is being questioned is the effectiveness of our integration model.”
Villepin apologized for a recent incident in which a police tear-gas bomb landed near a mosque, adding to ill-feeling in poor suburban housing projects where many Muslims live.
He acknowledged that jobseekers with foreign-sounding names were not always given equal consideration with applicants with traditional French-sounding names when they presented their resumes.
“The struggle against all discriminations must become a priority for our national community,” he said. “They are a reality today for all the inhabitants of troubled neighborhoods when they look for housing, a job or even when they want access to leisure activities.”
LE BLANC MESNIL, France—“It’s the start of war, cried one teenager. “We hate the police,” yelled another.
Shouting over each other to be heard, the young toughs vented about their lives in Paris’ tough suburban projects and the rioting that has set them ablaze and grown into a nationwide insurrection of disgruntled suburban youth.
All French-born children of Arab and black African immigrants, this group of a dozen or so teens at Les Tilleuls housing project north of Paris complain of being marginalized by French society.
France’s worst civil unrest in decades entered a 12th night Monday, as rioters in the southern city of Toulouse set fire to a bus after sundown and pelted police with gasoline bombs and rocks.
Outside the capital in Sevran, a junior high school was set ablaze, while in another Paris suburb, Vitry-sur-Seine, youths threw gasoline bombs at a hospital, police said. No one was injured.
Earlier, a 61-year-old man died of wounds he received last week in an attack, the first fatality in the violence.
Apparent copycat attacks also spread outside France, with cars torched outside the main train station in Brussels, Belgium. German police were investigating the burning of five cars in Berlin.
Chirac deplored the “ghettoization of youths of African or North African origin,” and recognized “the incapacity of French society to fully accept them,” Vike-Freiberga said.
The Les Tilleuls youths noted that France had welcomed their parents as labor years ago, often to do menial jobs most French did not want. Now, there are no jobs—or no one willing to give them one, they said.
Villepin said curfews will be imposed under a 1955 law that allows the declaring of a state of emergency in parts or all of France. The law was passed to curb unrest in Algeria during the war that led to its independence.
He said 1,500 reservists were being called up to reinforce the 8,000 police and gendarmes already deployed. The Cabinet will meet Tuesday to authorize curfews “wherever it is necessary,” he said.
“The multiplying acts of destruction, the destruction of schools and sports centers, thousands of cars set on fire, all of this is unacceptable and inexcusable,” he said. “To all in France who are watching me, who are disturbed by this, who are shocked, who want to see a return to normalcy, a return to security, the state’s response—I say it tonight forcefully—will be firm and just.”