France's Sarkozy to meet ministers about violence

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VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France, Nov 28 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy meets ministers today to try to end violence in poor, ethnically diverse suburbs after hundreds of police were deployed to prevent a third night of rioting.

The violence, sparked at the weekend when two teenagers were killed in a collision with a police car, spread to the southern city of Toulouse where a library was attacked and about 20 cars were torched yesterday night.

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

''(It) is much calmer than in previous nights but you can feel all this remains fragile,'' Prime Minister Francois Fillon said after meeting police and officials in Villiers-le-Bel, the northern Paris suburb where the violence began on Sunday.

The violence has revived memories of 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.

But officials said the latest violence was nowhere near the scale of 2005 and was limited to a few areas.

Sarkozy, just back from a visit to China, will hold talks with Fillon, Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and other ministers. He will also will meet police hurt in the violence.

Many residents in deprived suburbs blamed Sarkozy for inflaming tensions with his tough line when he was interior minister at the time of the 2005 riots.

This time he has called for calm and the government's comments suggest it wants to avoid exacerbating tensions.

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.

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 of North African origin.

Yesterday night, hundreds of police in riot gear lined the main street of Villiers-le-Bel. But journalists and television crews from all over the world outnumbered the few groups of youths gathered in front of high-rise apartment blocks.

In the neighbouring suburb of Sarcelles, some rubbish bins and at least one car were burned but officials said the situation was largely under control.

A bus was seized outside Paris and driven to a neighbourhood in the capital but police said they arrested those responsible before they could set fire to the vehicle.


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