French police ban public meetings and increase security measures in Paris

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Prefect of Police of Paris has banned public meetings in Paris, fearing violence in the French capital this holiday weekend, which marks the 87th anniversary of the end of World War I. Police remained on alert throughout the weekend, with some 12,000 security officers deployed around the country.

French rioters have burned thousands of cars during a prolonged period of civil unrest across the country. Picture taken by Francois Schnell, 6 November 2005.

After more than a fortnight of civil unrest in France, police imposed the temporary public meeting ban in response to Internet and text messages calling for violent action in the French capital. The government has declared a state of emergency in Paris and 30 other areas to help quell the unrest.

Today, Sunday 13 November, French authorities have reported less urban violence - despite fears of a rampage that prompted thousands of police to fan out at high-profile targets such as the Eiffel Tower. Across the country, the situation appears calmer. Rioting, car-burnings and arson attacks appear to be waning.

Nationwide, 374 cars were torched on Saturday night, down from 502 on the evening of November 11, police said today. About 100 vehicles go up in flames in France on a typical Saturday night.

National Police Chief Michel said there had been a "major lull" in the rioting on the 17th night of urban violence. If the calm continues, "things could return to normal very quickly," he said at a news conference on Sunday. Night curfews are still in force in several areas. Mr Gaudin said there was a "downward trend" in the incidence of violence "with some resistance in the Paris region. This weekend we will exercise extra vigilance in the Paris region."

On Thursday, President Jacques Chirac acknowledged that France had "undeniable problems" in poor city areas and must respond effectively. "Whatever our origins we are all the children of the Republic and we can all expect the same rights," he said.

Surveillance has been stepped up on suburban transport, petrol sales in small quantities have also been banned.

Mr Chirac defended his use of state-of-emergency legislation, and said the priority was still to restore order. The state of emergency, adopted on Wednesday and renewable after 12 days, allows French authorities to impose curfews in designated areas, ban public meetings, search for weapons without a warrant and issue house-arrest orders.

Some 7,500 cars and dozens of buildings including schools and businesses have been torched since the violence began. 2,350 people have been arrested and 358 have recieived prison sentences.

The recent unrest erupted on October 27 following the deaths of two teenagers electrocuted while hiding from police in an electrical sub-station.