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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chirac Declares State of Emergency in France

PARIS -- French President Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency Tuesday to impose curfews on riot-hit cities, an extraordinary measure to halt France's worst civil unrest in decades after violence raged for a 12th night.

The state-of-emergency decree allowing curfews where needed was to become effective at midnight on Tuesday and has an initial 12-day limit. Police -- extraordinarily reinforced as the violence has fanned out from its initial flashpoint in the northeastern suburbs of Paris -- are expected to enforce the curfews. The army has not been called in.

Local officials "will be able to impose curfews on the areas where this decision applies," Chirac said at a Cabinet meeting. "It is necessary to accelerate the return to calm."

The recourse to a 1955 state-of-emergency law that dates back to France's war in Algeria was a measure both of the gravity of mayhem that has spread to hundreds of towns and cities and of the determination of Chirac's sorely tested government to quash it.

"I have decided ... to give the forces of order supplementary measures of action to ensure the protection of our citizens and their property," Chirac said.

Police reported that unrest over Monday night, while still widespread and destructive, was not as violent as previous nights. Nationwide, vandals burned 1,173 cars, compared with 1,408 vehicles Sunday night, police said. A total of 330 people were arrested, down from 395 the night before.

"The intensity of this violence is on the way down," National Police Chief Michel Gaudin said, adding that there were "much fewer" attacks on public buildings, and fewer direct clashes between youths and police. He said rioting was reported in 226 towns across France, compared with nearly 300 the night before.

The violence started Oct. 27 as a localized riot in a northeast Paris suburb angry over the accidental deaths of two teenagers, of Mauritanian and Tunisian descent, electrocuted while hiding from police in a power substation.

It has grown into a nationwide insurrection by disillusioned suburban youths, many of them French-born children of immigrants from France's former territories, including Algeria. France's suburbs have long been neglected, and young people in them complain of a lack of jobs and widespread discrimination, some of it racial.

The curfews drew immediate criticism from Chirac's political opponents. Former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius said the emergency measures must be "controlled very, very closely."

Rioting in the Paris region appeared to be abating, with a "considerable decrease" in incidents Monday night into Tuesday from the night before, national police spokesman Patrick Hamon said. Elsewhere, violence was unrestrained.

Rioters in the southern city of Toulouse ordered passengers off a bus and then set it on fire and pelted police with gasoline bombs and rocks. Youths torched another bus in the northeastern Paris suburb of Stains, said Hamon.

Outside Paris in Sevran, a junior high school was set ablaze, while in the suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine youths threw gasoline bombs at a hospital, Hamon said. No one was injured.

Rioters also attacked a police station with gasoline bombs in Chenove, in Burgundy, Hamon said. A nursery school in Lille-Fives, in northern France, was set on fire, regional officials said.

In terms of material destruction, the unrest is France's worst since World War II. Never has rioting struck so many French cities simultaneously, said security expert Sebastian Roche, a director of research at the state-funded National Center for Scientific Research.

The violence claimed its first victim Monday, with the death of a 61-year-old man beaten into a coma last week. Foreign governments have warned tourists to tread carefully in France. Apparent copycat attacks have spread to Belgium and Germany, where cars were burned.

 Across Europe, officials acknowledged that poverty and the poor integration of the continent's growing immigrant populations may be feeding disillusionment in the cities' poorer quarters.

"There are terrible living conditions and unhappiness -- [even] where everybody is Italian," said Romano Prodi, the center-left's candidate to oppose Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Russian Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov said Monday that Russia -- coping with its own rising racial tension -- could see similar rioting.

"I am convinced that something like what we are now seeing in France could happen here, but on an even greater scale and with even more dramatic consequences," Zyuganov said, Interfax reported.

"When the makeup of the population changes so fundamentally during a short period of time, its new members cannot adapt overnight."