Sarkozy calls security meeting after fresh unrest

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VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France, Nov 27 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy has summoned senior ministers to a security meeting tomorrow after around 80 police were injured in a second night of violence in Paris suburbs.

Rioters pelted police with stones, petrol bombs and firecrackers during several hours of skirmishes in Villiers and nearby areas overnight. Police replied with tear gas and rubber bullets, and made five arrests.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie will be among those at the meeting following Sarkozy's return from a trip to China, his spokesman David Martinon said in a statement today.

Sarkozy will first visit a senior police officer who was seriously hurt in Villiers-le-Bel, a suburb north of Paris. The deaths of two youths in a crash with a police car there on Sunday sparked the latest unrest.

The violence revived memories of the prolonged riots of two years ago when thousands of cars were torched after two teenagers were electrocuted in a power sub-station while apparently fleeing police.

The 2005 disturbances were the worst civil unrest in France for 40 years and many blamed the harsh rhetoric of Sarkozy, who was interior minister at the time, for stoking the violence.

This time, Sarkozy has called for calm and the low-key government response suggests it wants to avoid exacerbating tensions in France's deprived, ethnically diverse suburbs.

The latest disturbances distracted from Sarkozy's success in clinching billions of euros of contracts for French firms on his China trip, and provided a new headache following recent transport strikes and student protests over his reforms.

''WORSE THAN 2005'' Rioters ignored appeals for calm from the crash victims' families and damaged dozens of shops, businesses and public buildings. Five police officers were seriously hurt, including one hit by a projectile apparently fired from a hunting rifle.

''Those who shoot at police are criminals and they will be pursued as such,'' Fillon said during a tour of the area today with Alliot-Marie.

Authorities are investigating the fatal crash that sparked the unrest. The local prosecutor said it was a traffic accident although some relatives have questioned police actions after the crash and how quickly help arrived.

Fillon promised a full, independent investigation but said nothing could justify the overnight destruction and violence.

Alliot-Marie said criminals were using youngsters to lure away police while they pillaged shops. She denied a repeat of the 2005 riots was on the cards.

''For the moment what we are seeing is that things are very limited geographically,'' she told France 3 television. Two years ago, poor neighbourhoods throughout France were affected.

Patrice Ribeiro of the Synergie police union told RTL radio that the toll of 77 officers hurt was unusually high for a riot.

''From what our colleagues on the scene told us, the situation is a lot worse than in 2005. A line was passed last night with the appearance of firearms,'' he said.

REUTERS RJ RK2016

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