Nightly violence flared again Wednesday in riot-hit parts of France but the threat of emergency curfews appeared to have taken the edge off the urban unrest that has gripped the country for almost two weeks.
Curfews under France's state of emergency dampened the flames of unrest
The ritual of car-burnings that has plagued poor city suburbs picked up again after nightfall, but police said there were far fewer incidents pitting rioters against the security forces and no reports of shots fired.
The government Tuesday declared a state of emergency in the worst-hit parts of the country under a decree, applicable from Wednesday, which will allow regional authorities to declare curfews to combat the violence.
A decree setting up a state of emergency "from November 9 2005 at zero hour" was published Wednesday by the Official Journal on its Internet site. A second decree said that certain powers under the law of April 3, 1955 governing the state of emergency would come into effect in all or part of 25 regions, which it listed.
The 1955 law, enacted at the start of troubles that triggered the war of independence in French-controlled Algeria, permits the declaration of curfews, house searches and bans on public meetings.
Seventy-three percent of French people support the government's curfew decision, according to a poll to appear in Le Parisien/Aujourd'hui. But some have charged that the measure recalls one of the worst moments in the country's modern history and has painful associations for Algerians, the original law's main targets.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who some have accused of stoking the fires of violence with inflammatory comments.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy vowed on Tuesday that the curfews would be implemented "in a manner proportional to the threat", insisting the French people wanted the government to show "firmness."
Towns enforce curfews after midnight decree
The first to act under the new powers, the town of Amiens north of Paris, declared an overnight curfew for unaccompanied under 16-year-olds and a ban on petrol sales to minors, even before the decree comes into force. Mayors have already declared separate, local curfews, in Orleans and Savigny-sur-Orge, both south of Paris and in Raincy northeast of the capital.
Across the country, 558 vehicles had been torched at 04:00 UTC, compared with 814 at the same time on Tuesday, and 204 people arrested, against 143 the previous night, according to national police figures.
Police claim a calmer night but unrest continues
The result of riots in a Paris suburb
Despite the car-burnings, police said the overall situation was calmer than on recent nights, when dozens of police officers were injured, two by gunshot. "There has been a marked decrease (in violence), particularly in the provinces, and the downward trend is continuing in Ile-de-France (the greater Paris region)," a national police official said.
Sarkozy, who was visiting police in southwestern Toulouse, a flashpoint of unrest in recent days, said there had been a "fairly significant fall" in the violence.
Paris riot fever burns unabated in other areas
Violnece still erupted across France despite the curfew.
Earlier, on the outskirts of Toulouse, police charged a gang of youths who had attacked them with stones and firebombs. A gas-powered bus exploded after it came under attack with a Molotov cocktail in the Bordeaux suburbs, also in the southwest.
In southeastern France, Lyon's entire public transport network was shut down after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a train station. And around 50 youths tried, unsuccessfully, to ram their way into a supermarket in the Mediterranean city of Marseille.
In Arras, in northern France, a fire ripped through a shopping centre, spreading from a furniture store to a carpet retailer next door.
The riots started in Clichy-sous-Bois
The situation was relatively calm in the northeast Paris suburbs where the violence began, police said, with isolated cases of arson and a dozen arrests.
Meanwhile, ten cars and a motor scooter were set ablaze overnight on Wednesday in the German cities of Berlin and Cologne but police said it was unclear whether there was a connection with the riots sweeping France.
In the capital, unidentified vandals ignited six cars and a scooter in the working-class, multi-ethnic districts of Wedding and Pankow, after five vehicles were set alight the night before. Police said they had no suspects and could not comment on a possible link to the violence in France.
In Cologne, western Germany, four cars were torched. The authorities said they did not see a connection with the violence in France that has been raging for two weeks. "We do not have a situation like in Paris," a police spokesman said, adding that night patrols would now be stepped up.
Earlier in the week, there were similar incidents two nights in a row in the northern port city of Bremen.
In neighboring Belgium, a dozen cars were set alight, although police downplayed concerns about serious violence spreading over the border.