The extraordinary 12-day state of emergency went into effect Tuesday at midnight, giving special powers to authorities in Paris, its suburbs and more than 30 other cities from the Mediterranean to the German border - an indication of how widespread arson, riots and other unrest have become in nearly two weeks of violence. The emergency decree invoked a 50-year-old security law dating from France's colonial war in Algeria. It empowers officials to put troublemakers under house arrest, ban or limit the movement of people and vehicles, confiscate weapons and close public spaces where gangs gather.
Local officials could also choose to impose curfews. By midday Wednesday, only a few municipalities and regions had. Paris had not. Seventy-three percent of respondents in a poll published Wednesday in daily Le Parisien said they agreed with the curfew.
The unrest started Oct. 27 as a localized riot in a northeast Paris suburb in anger over the accidental deaths of two teenagers, of Mauritanian and Tunisian descent, electrocuted while hiding from police in a power substation.
It has grown into a nationwide insurrection by disillusioned suburban youths, many of them French-born children of immigrants from France's former territories such as Algeria. France's suburbs have long been neglected, and their young people complain of widespread discrimination and a lack of jobs.
Overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, youths torched 617 vehicles, down from 1,173 a night earlier, police said. Incidents were reported in 116 towns, down from 226. Police made 280 arrests, raising the total to 1,830 since the violence broke out 13 nights ago.
"The arrests are bearing fruit," said Interior Ministry spokesman Franck Louvrier. "It's clear there has been a significant drop, but we must persevere."
Christian Gaillard de Lavernee, head of the national civil security brigade, told reporters that firefighters responded to 30 percent fewer calls overnight than the previous day.
In some towns, concerned residents have banded together to keep overnight watch on public buildings and to patrol their neighborhoods, armed only with fire extinguishers. A.M.