Arsonists torched 1,300 cars and police arrested 300 people across France overnight Saturday, as the urban violence which has rocked the country for 10 nights reached a new peak.
Firefighters battled arsonists throughout the night
Police deployed helicopters and stepped up their arrests of youths responsible for the street violence, as troubles flared for the 10th consecutive night in suburbs around Paris and spread to other French cities.
Copycat arson attacks hit the outskirts of Toulouse, Bordeaux, Montpellier and Pau in the south, Rennes and Nantes in the west, Lille in the north and Mulhouse and Colmar in the east.
The disorder also spilled into central Paris itself, where a petrol bomb set alight four cars near a major square, Place de la Republique, while half a dozen vehicles went up in smoke in the northwest 17th arrondissement, or district.
Despite calls for calm Saturday, 1,295 cars were torched overnight compared with 897 the previous night, while arrests totalled 312, up from 253.
Seven police helicopters fitted with powerful lights and cameras flew over Paris and some of the other cities in an effort to pursue and identify the youths, who have taken to setting fires then racing away, often on scooters.
A scene of desolation in a Paris suburb
Riot squads also broke down doors in a public housing estate in the western Paris suburb of Les Mureaux to arrest youths who had thrown objects, such as supermarket carts, on them and on a nearby busy road.
Some 2,300 more police than normal were on the streets while additional firefighters were sent to the Paris region.
Most night bus services north and east of the capital were suspended overnight Saturday as a precautionary measure against ambushes which have seen at least two buses set fire to and destroyed.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who visited a police command headquarters at Evry in southern Paris overnight, has said that the gangs responsible for the violence have become increasingly organized. They have been seen using mobile telephones to relay police movements and Internet blogs to urge unrest elsewhere.
Teenagers arrested in nearby Courcouronnes -- where police found a stockpile of crowbars, petrol bombs and iron bars -- were sheepish when approached by the minister, who has come under fire for his handling of the crisis.
"You're not very happy that your dad is coming to get you, are you?" Sarkozy asked one boy who shook his head but said his father knew he had been out.
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy
Just before the riots erupted, Sarkozy had described delinquents in the suburbs "rabble" and vowed to clean up crime in the neighborhoods "with a power-hose" -- comments that have angered people living in those areas.
Around 800 people have been arrested since the riots began, some of them minors. In all, more than 2,700 automobiles have gone up in flames.
The violence was sparked on October 27 when two teenagers, one of African and the other of Arab origin, were electrocuted while hiding in an electrical sub-station after fleeing a police identity check.
So far no one has been killed in the ensuing unrest, although at least two people have been badly burnt by Molotov cocktails: a fireman, and a handicapped woman unable to get off an ambushed bus.
A 61-year-old was also in a coma after being hit by an assailant in a public housing estate.