Violence Continues Across France; President Vows To Crack Down On Rioters

First death due to riots reported Monday.

Violence continued to escalate in France early Monday as hooded youths battled with police for the 11th straight night, setting fire to hundreds of cars, smashing windows and burning schools, post offices and malls in some 247 towns and cities across the country, according to The New York Times.

And, for the first time since the nightly clashes began, they have caused a death: A 61-year-old man, who had been in a coma since he was beaten by a group of youths in the Parisian suburbs of Stains last week, died of his injuries on Monday (November 7).

The violence began on October 27, following the deaths of two teenage boys — one of Mauritanian origin, the other Tunisian — who were accidentally electrocuted while hiding from officers they believed were chasing them; the police have denied they were pursuing the two. The deaths have unleashed pent-up frustrations among the country's sizable North and West African immigrant communities, members of which have long complained of problems resulting from high unemployment and discrimination.

Sunday's violence the worst yet, with rioters torching some 1,400 cars and police arresting 395 people throughout the country. Several police officers were injured when rioters fired birdshot at them, with two requiring hospitalization for non-life-threatening injuries. French President Jacques Chirac called an emergency meeting of his top security officials on Sunday evening to discuss strategies to put down the insurrection. Chirac also promised increased police patrols, and French officials are expected to announce plans to deal with the underlying issues of unemployment, poverty and discrimination in the poor communities where the violence has been most intense.

Almost 5,000 vehicles have been torched since the uprising began on October 27, along with dozens of public buildings and private businesses, from post offices and schools to shops and a McDonald's.

With the unrest threatening to spill beyond France's borders, police expressed frustration that more youth were being drawn into the nightly skirmishes by the vivid images of the fires on television and boasts posted on Web sites.

"[The teenagers' deaths] was a good excuse, but it's fun to set cars on fire," 15-year-old Mohamed Hammouti told the Times of the reasons behind the violence. The paper reported that police are also concerned about the rapid escalation of the violence, which, on Sunday, progressed to attacks with baseball bats and pickaxes and some residents in high-rise apartment buildings tossing steel bocce balls and improvised explosives at police patrolling below.

Though the uprising does not appear to have any central leader or organization, police arrested six minors in a city in the south of France over the weekend, where they found a bomb factory with nearly 150 completed bombs. Three other youths were arrested on Monday for their Web sites — which do not appear to be connected — which called for more rioting and attacks on police. Although most of the rioters are believed to be Muslims of North African origin, the battles do not yet have any obvious religious or ideological overtones, according to the Times. France's most influential Islamic religious group issued an edict condemning the violence.

With more than 500 youths arrested so far, Chirac — who addressed the public about the riots for the first time on Sunday — took a hardline stance, saying that those who are responsible for the violence will face arrest and trial.

"The republic is completely determined to be stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear," Chirac said after the meeting with his security council. "The last word must be from the law."

The tensions fueling the riots were exacerbated by comments from the country's interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has referred to the rioters as "scum," prompting some of them to call for his resignation.

Australia, Russia, Britain, Germany and Austria have joined the U.S. in warning their citizens to stay away from the violence-stricken areas, according to the Times, which now stretch from Toulouse and Marseilles in the south to Lille in the north and Strasbourg in the east on the German border. The U.S. Embassy has also warned travelers not to take trains from Paris to Charles de Gaulle International Airport because there have been attacks on at least two trains on that route in the past week.