RIOTS in France's poor migrant areas spread across the country yesterday with more than 900 cars torched in one night. Authorities used helicopters as they arrested nearly 200 people and vowed to step up action against youths responsible for 10 nights of violence.
The outskirts of other cities around the country — including Toulouse, Rennes, Nantes and Lille — were hit by a wave of arson attacks. Fires were also started in central Paris.
A petrol bomb set alight four cars near a major square, Place de la Republique, while six vehicles went up in smoke in the 17th arrondissement (district). Despite calls for calm, 918 cars were torched yesterday and 897 the previous day.
Seven police helicopters fitted with search lights and cameras flew over Paris and other cities in an effort to pursue and identify the arsonists, who have taken to setting fires then racing away, often on scooters.
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 trolleys, on them and on a nearby busy road.
About 2300 more police than normal were on the streets while additional firefighters were sent to the Paris region.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who visited a police command headquarters in southern Paris overnight, has said that the gangs responsible for the violence have become increasingly organised. They have been seen using mobile telephones to relay police movements and internet blogs to urge unrest elsewhere.
About 570 people have been arrested since the riots began, some of them minors found carrying petrol bombs.
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. They were 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.
The leader of the opposition Socialists, Francois Hollande, told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper that government policies were to blame for the conflagration. He said Mr Sarkozy "carries a large part of the responsibility" for his hardline law-and-order rhetoric.
The Interior Minister, just before the riots erupted, called suburban delinquents "rabble" and vowed to clean up crime "with a power-hose".
But the Government says it is looking for solutions to the anger of the Arabs and Africans who have gone on the rampage.
Labour Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin had charged him with "accelerating" plans for urban renewal that have long been on the drawing board.
As the violence spread, more than 600 people marched yesterday to protest against the rioting.