France to deport foreigners in riots

Posted in Europe | 10-Nov-05 | Author: Mark Landler| Source: International Herald Tribune

France police clash with angry youths in Aulnay sous Bois.
PARIS Struggling to restore order after nearly two weeks of nightly street battles and car burnings, the French government on Wednesday demanded that foreigners found guilty of rioting be expelled from the country, regardless of whether they are in France legally or illegally.

The government's hard line came after a night in which the violence appeared to have decreased.

The number of cars burned on Tuesday fell by nearly half, to 617, compared with Monday night, although there were still incidents in 116 towns, including attacks on a subway station and a newspaper warehouse.

On Tuesday, the government declared a state of emergency for only the second time in half a century, authorizing local officials in 38 towns and cities, among them Paris, to impose a curfew.

Overnight curfews for minors were declared in Nice, Cannes and other Riviera resorts, and in several towns in Normandy. In Paris, where the streets teem with tourists rather than marauding gangs, a curfew will be imposed "if the situation requires it," the police chief said.

The government's imposition of curfews has been widely popular here, and when the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, called for the swift deportations, he was applauded in the National Assembly.

Sarkozy said 120 foreigners, some of whom are here legally, had been found guilty of rioting since the unrest began to the north of Paris on Oct. 27.

"I have asked the prefects to deport them from our national territory without delay, including those who have a residency visa," he said.

Human rights groups objected to the plan, saying that as a "collective expulsion," it was both illegal and needlessly provocative.

It does not go beyond existing French law, however, according to an immigration lawyer, Stéphane Halimi. Foreigners convicted of a crime are subject to losing their residency, and they are often deported after serving their sentences in a French prison. "If he can prove that these people constitute a grave threat to public order, he can certainly do it," Halimi said.

Nevertheless, Sarkozy's unyielding tone dramatized yet again the deep gulf between the rioters - most of whom are teenagers of North African or West African origin - and mainstream French society.

Many of these young people are French, since under French law people born here automatically get citizenship. But some older immigrants never obtained French citizenship, either because they are ineligible or - in a few cases - because it is easier to find informal work without it.

Sarkozy has come under heavy criticism for using inflammatory language in referring to the rioters. While his call for expulsions may bruise more feelings, other people will view it as welcome sign that the authorities are finally responding to the chaos that has convulsed the country.

An opinion poll published Wednesday in the newspaper Le Parisien, found that 73 percent of those surveyed approved of the curfew measures, which were first enforced on Tuesday in Amiens, in northern France.

Officials said it was too soon to say whether the emergency measures had brought about the decline in lawlessness.

The more likely explanation, Interior Ministry officials said, is the heavy police presence on the streets of the suburban areas, where the unrest has been concentrated.

Police officers arrested 280 people on Tuesday, bringing the total number of arrests to 1,830.

Among the cities authorized to impose curfews are Marseille, Dijon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nancy, Rouen, Avignon and the entire Île-de-France region, which includes Paris and its suburbs. Most of these will not immediately impose a curfew, according to France-Inter radio.

But the Normandy towns of Rouen and Le Havre will enforce a curfew for unaccompanied minors younger than 16, and in another Normandy town - Évreux, where rioters staged particularly violent attacks Saturday night - a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will apply to adults as well, the radio said.

The same hours apply in the southern towns of Nice, Cannes, Antibes and Grasse, a spokesman for the region's prefect said.

Asked whether rioting had occurred in those towns - which are normally regarded as hot because of the night life, not because of burning cars - the spokesman said the measures were "anticipatory."

The decree also allows police raids on the homes of suspects in any rioting in Nice, and will force as yet unspecified cafés and bars in the city to close during curfew.

The images of burning cars have rattled European leaders, and some are starting to question the French government's tactics.

"There is justified criticism against French society and that should not be met by the type of expressions that Sarkozy, for example, uses," Sweden's prime minister, Goran Persson, said in Stockholm on Wednesday. "They have chosen a path, and it is hard for me to judge that, but it feels like a tough and confrontational tactic, and it is difficult to see how it will lead to dialogue."

The euro slipped against the dollar again on Wednesday, as traders worried about a contagion of violence within Europe.

The French economy itself seems unlikely to suffer much, aside from a potential drag on consumer confidence if the mayhem goes on, according to Nicolas Sobczak, an economist at Goldman Sachs in Paris. More significant, he said, it could influence France's future economic policies, shifting the emphasis away from budget cutting to increased social spending.

"The riots will probably change the focus to more social programs and better treatment of the suburbs," Sobczak said. "The main consequences of this will be political, not economic."

One politician who has not kept silent is Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right National Front. He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the party had been besieged by requests for membership since the rioting erupted.

Meg Bortin of the International Herald Tribune contributed reporting from Paris.

Belgium and Germany hit

Vandals burned 17 vehicles in Belgium overnight, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday, citing the authorities. It was the third night of incidents there, and the arson represented an increase after a total of seven cars were burned Sunday and Monday nights.

Nine cars were set on fire in the German cities of Berlin and Cologne in suspected copycat attacks, Reuters reported the German police as saying Wednesday. The police in the German capital said five cars and a motorcycle were burned in the working class north Berlin district of Wedding on Tuesday night. In Cologne, the police said four cars in the Bocklemuend district were set on fire. Five other cars were burned in Berlin's Moabit quarter two nights earlier.

"We don't see any danger in the attacks spreading widely," a Berlin police spokeswoman said. "There were five cars set on fire last night. In the past year, we've had about 170 attacks of this kind."