France's Sarkozy vows tough line against rioters

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EAUBONNE, France, Nov 28 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy, visiting police officers injured in riots, vowed today to take a tough line against protesters after a sharp drop in the nightly violence.

Youths in Paris suburbs and the southern city of Toulouse torched several cars and set rubbish bins ablaze in the third night of violence. But officials reported no major clashes between youths and police who were out in force.

Shortly after returning to France after a trip to China, Sarkozy went to a hospital in the northern Paris suburb where a senior police officer is being treated for serious injuries after he was attacked at the start of the violence on Sunday.

Sarkozy, a law-and-order hardliner when interior minister during riots two years ago, vowed to bring to justice rioters who had shot at police.

''Those who take it upon themselves to shoot at police will find themselves in the Assizes Court,'' Sarkozy told reporters. Shooting at police ''has a name -- attempted murder,'' he added.

''We will find the shooters. We will put in the necessary resources ... It is not something that we can tolerate, no matter how dramatic the deaths of these two youngsters on a motorbike may be,'' he added.

The violence has revived memories of the riots in 2005, the worst unrest in France in 40 years, when thousands of cars were torched after two teenagers were electrocuted in a power sub-station after apparently fleeing police.

The new wave of violence erupted on Sunday when two teenagers were killed in a collision with a police car. It spread last night to the southern city of Toulouse, where a library was attacked and about 20 cars were set ablaze.

High unemployment, underperforming schools, poor relations with the police, inadequate housing and new immigration laws have created a generation of frustrated youths in rundown areas.

SHOW OF SUPPORT Today's early morning hospital visit appeared designed to show Sarkozy's support for police and show he would waste no time tackling France's pressing problems after presiding over 30 billion dollars in business deals in China.

''Sarkozy: Beijing-suburbs express'' the left-leaning Liberation daily said in a headline.

''It's really he who has to do everything in this country,'' it said in an editorial, an ironic jibe at the president's hands-on style which has seen him play a greater role than his predecessors in the day-to-day running of France.

Sarkozy was due later today to meet the Socialist mayor of Villiers-le-Bel, site of the fatal crash and the initial rioting, before chairing a security meeting on the violence with ministers and the weekly government meeting.

There were isolated incidents in Paris suburbs overnight but the level of violence was sharply down from Monday night when about 80 police officers were injured in clashes with youths throwing petrol bombs and rocks.

Officials said the latest violence was nowhere near the scale of 2005 and was limited to a few areas. But the use of firearms so early in the disturbances has alarmed police.

Sarkozy, elected president in May, has sought to offer non-whites role models in his government, naming Rachida Dati as justice minister and Fadela Amara as junior towns minister -- both women are of North African origin.

REUTERS PD AS1434

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