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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 January 2006, 16:55 GMT
Troubled France still ill at ease
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News, Paris

French police in Paris
The violence has eased off, but not completely
The state of emergency in France was finally lifted on Wednesday, despite the occasional flashes of trouble.

It had been in place since the urban riots that erupted two months ago and was introduced on 8 November under a little-used law dating back to 1955.

The state of emergency was brought in to help quell the rioting in France's suburbs, and broadened police powers, enabling the authorities to impose curfews or conduct police searches without warrants.

It was extended in late November - continuing long after the riots themselves had stopped.

The unrest fizzled out after weeks in which youths in the deprived suburbs confronted police almost every night; burning cars or throwing stones or even homemade firebombs.

New Year troubles

The sense of alienation that lay behind the violence and the high unemployment levels among young French citizens of north African or Arab origin have still not been addressed.

But the French government appears to feel that the immediate danger of further violence is over - the state of emergency was simply a useful way to offer the police more tools with which to quell the unrest, rather than seeking to solve the problems behind the rioting.

On New Year's Eve, French police remained poised in case of more unrest, and the sale of jerry-cans of petrol was forbidden in sensitive or difficult suburban areas.

More than 400 cars were set on fire that night - a slight rise over the year before - but still a small enough number to be described by the French authorities and the media as a relatively peaceful evening.

However, New Year's day saw between 20 and 40 teenagers, many of Arab or north African origin, go on the rampage on a train between Nice and Lyon, intimidating and robbing passengers, and allegedly sexually assaulting at least one young woman.

Patriotism

Mr Chirac added his voice to the chorus of condemnation, calling the violence "unacceptable" and promising that those responsible would be hunted down and punished.

The news of this rampage has led to yet more soul-searching, with its echoes of the rioting in the suburbs. Many are asking how France can solve the problem of alienated and increasingly violent youths.

Mr Chirac said the state of emergency had been "essential", but that it was now time to end it. He also called on the French to enter this new year with a new sense of patriotism which could unite the country.

Speaking at a press reception at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday, the French president said that progress had been made towards a more cohesive society, but that plenty of work still remained to be done.




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