France plans on extending anti-riot powers

Monday, November 14, 2005

Despite a drop in violence in the country over the past weekend, the French cabinet has agreed to ask the parliament for a three-month extension to emergency powers. Ministers agreed on the extension at a meeting chaired by President Jacques Chirac, and a bill on that effect will be presented on Tuesday to the National Assembly and on Wednesday to the Senate.

The police reported 284 vehicles being torched in petrol bomb attacks on Sunday, the 18th consecutive night of the riots. The number is lower than the previous night, when 374 cars were destroyed, and considerably below previous week's peak of 1,400.

Chirac, who has been criticized for keeping a low profile during the crisis, prepared to address the nation on Monday night in a television broadcast. Chirac was quoted by a government spokesman as saying that the emergency powers were "strictly temporary and will only be applied where they are strictly necessary."

In spite of all departmental prefects being authorised to impose curfews, in practice only few have. The extension of powers has drawn some criticism from local mayors who have deemed it an overreaction and potentially inflammatory. The pressure group SOS Racisme said that events had shown that the prefects already had enough powers.

Since the beginning of the unrest on October 27, more than 8,000 cars have been torched, more than 2,700 people arrested and dozens of buildings wrecked. According to José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission, the European Union is prepared to release 50 million € in aid for damaged areas.