The government approved a bill Monday to extend France's state of emergency for three months, giving itself more policing tools to stop the country's worst civil unrest since the 1960s. Though violence has abated since breaking out 18 days ago, scattered arson attacks continued early Monday, with youths setting schools and cars ablaze. President Jacques Chirac was to make his first presidential address to the nation on the crisis later in the day.
The government's bill, if approved by parliament as expected, would allow the current 12-day state of emergency to be prolonged until mid-February if needed. The emergency measures empower regions to impose curfews on minors, conduct house searches and take other steps to prevent unrest.
Chirac said the state of emergency was "necessary to give security forces all the means they need to restore calm definitively."
"It is a measure of protection and precaution," he said, stressing that the plan was temporary and that regional officials would use it "only where it is strictly necessary."
About 40 French towns, including France's third-largest city, Lyon, have used the measure to impose curfews for minors.
Overnight, the number of car-torchings, a barometer of the unrest _ dropped sharply, with youths setting fire to 284 vehicles, compared to 374 the previous night, police said Monday. There were no clashes between police and rioters, the AP says.
"The lull is confirmed," national police spokesman Patrick Hamon said. A week ago, 1,400 cars were incinerated in a single night.
The riots, set off by the accidental electrocution deaths of two teens who thought police were chasing them, began in Paris' poor suburbs, where many immigrants from North and West Africa live with their French-born children in high-rise housing projects.
France's worst unrest since the 1968 student-worker protests is forcing the country to confront decades of simmering anger over racial discrimination, crowded housing and unemployment.