Residents from riot-torn suburbs were to march in Paris on Friday, Armistice Day, marking the end of WWI, waving white handkerchiefs to call for an end to more than two weeks of violence. President Jacques Chirac acknowledged Thursday that France must confront the inequalities and discrimination that fueled the unrest.
The violence continued to abate on its 15th night Thursday-Friday under state-of-emergency measures and heavy policing, with fewer skirmishes and fewer cars burned, national police spokeswoman Catherine Casteran said. Police, meanwhile, suspended eight officers, two of them suspected of beating a man detained during the riots.
"Things are calming," Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said Thursday on France-2 television. "But that doesn't mean it won't restart."
Chirac had kept largely silent about France's worst unrest since the 1968 student-worker uprising: in two weeks of violence, he had spoken publicly on the crisis only once.
"There is a need to respond strongly and rapidly to the undeniable problems faced by many residents of underprivileged neighborhoods around our cities," Chirac told a news conference.
"Whatever our origins, we are all the children of the Republic, and we can all expect the same rights."
Finance Minister Thierry Breton said the government was considering relaxing restrictions on highly regulated service industries and business startups to help create jobs in poor suburbs, in an interview published Friday, the AP informs.
"We have put a lot of money into the suburbs over the past 20 years," Breton was quoted as saying by The Financial Times. "But obviously it wasn't enough. We need to work on how to create more jobs and growth in those areas."
The unrest, which started among youths in the northeastern suburban Paris town of Clichy-sous-Bois angry over the accidental electrocution deaths of two teenagers grew into a nationwide wave of arson and nightly clashes between rioters armed with firebombs and police retaliating with tear gas.
The crisis has led to collective soul-searching about France's failure to integrate its African and Muslim minorities. Anger about high unemployment and discrimination has fanned frustration among the French-born children of immigrants from France's former colonies.