Terrorists Threaten French Landmarks
Paris is on high alert after receiving credible threats against popular tourist sites, including the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Ãƒ‰lysÃƒ©es.
Unrest continued to percolate through poor, predominantly minority neighborhoods across France on Saturday, though by the afternoon there were no signs that the arson attacks would again reach into the heart of the capital as had been feared. The police have invoked emergency measures in Paris, banning unauthorized gatherings until Sunday morning and fanning out across the city to guard landmarks and patrol subways and trains in an effort to prevent further violence. The precautions were taken after the police intercepted calls for “violent actions” in the city that had been posted on the Internet or passed by text messages to cellphones. “This is not a rumor,” the national police chief, Michel Gaudin, told reporters Saturday, saying that sites popular with tourists, like the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Ãƒ‰lysÃƒ©es, were among the potential targets.
In the Paris region, there a was a small drop in the number of car-burnings Friday to 86; that figure, Mr. Gaudin said, “sadly is no more than we would expect on any normal weekend.”
There are 86 car burnings on a normal weekend in Paris?! That’s certainly the first I’ve hard of this.
Emergency measures were also invoked in other cities, most notably Lyon. The authorities there imposed a curfew that bars minors without adult supervision from the streets from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekends. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse youths there on Saturday and arrested 10 people, Reuters reported.
The unrest that has swept France since Oct. 27 held steady at reduced levels on Friday, amid concerns by officials that the youths involved may be regrouping in an effort to raise the violence again to the levels that drew international attention during the week. The mayhem, mostly in the form of arson attacks on cars, began after the accidental deaths of two youths, one of Arab descent, the other of African descent, who were hiding from the police. It has touched nearly every urban area and alarmed the nation.
Even if the level of violence continues to decline, it has started a national debate about topics that include police comportment, racial discrimination, unemployment and educational inequalities. The unrest is certain to preoccupy the government as it searches for ways to address those issues and others that have alienated millions of young people who were born here and grew up in the immigrant communities but feel abandoned by French society.
Treating international affairs just like domestic policy, we are also treated to this:
A LONGSIDE the urban unrest that has swept France in the last two weeks, another battle has been taking place. It is the political contest over who among France’s politicians will gain and who will lose from the rioting. Thus far, one observation seems inescapable: tough talk seems to be working with the public, as opposed to a discussion of the general condition of the alienated children and grandchildren of immigrants, whose frustration has fueled the violence.
The major power struggle has been within the governing center-right party, and so far it looks as if the winner has been Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. He has managed to dominate government policy by expressing the sentiments of the angry, anti-immigrant right while drowning out arguments that immigrants have grievances that should be addressed. Here’s a look at five of the biggest figures in French politics and how they have fared in the crisis.
THE LAME DUCK
Name Jacques Chirac
Title President of the Republic
Biography Mr. Chirac’s reputation as a forceful, if diplomatic, figure suffered this year when France voted against ratifying a draft European constitution, which he had backed. Then in September he suffered what many people believe was a minor stroke, and he has since stayed largely out of the public eye. His presidency ends after elections in 2007.
Position on the Unrest Mr. Chirac has remained in the background throughout the crisis, and his government has appeared paralyzed. He emerged only briefly before the television cameras to urge calm, and that was 10 days after the unrest began. He didn’t speak publicly again about the crisis until last week, when he said he would wait until order was restored before commenting more fully. The French press has attacked him for his silence.
Future Unless Mr. Chirac can somehow take charge of the crisis and end it quickly, many people believe he could be a spent political force after the crisis dies down.
Name Nicolas Sarkozy
Titles Minister of state, interior minister
Biography Mr. Sarkozy, the son of an immigrant descended from Hungarian aristocracy, leapt to national prominence during a 1993 hostage crisis in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb, where he was mayor; he became Mr. Chirac’s interior minister in 2002. Media-savvy (reporters call him Sarko) and ambitious, he has become a thorn in Mr. Chirac’s side, outmaneuvering the aging president and claiming the national spotlight. Mr. Chirac forced Mr. Sarkozy out of the government when he ran for president of Mr. Chirac’s own Union for a Popular Movement Party. But Mr. Sarkozy won, and then the draft constitution lost. And so Mr. Chirac was forced to ask Mr. Sarkozy to come back as interior minister.
Position on the Unrest Mr. Sarkozy, who has pursued a zero-tolerance anticrime drive, has maintained his aggressive style of tough, law-and-order talk throughout the crisis, although many people say that style helped set it off and keep it going – notably when he referred to the rioters as “dregs.” But Mr. Sarkozy has refused to back down, and the public seems to have liked that. In a poll published by the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, 56 percent of the French said they approved of the way he had handled the crisis.
Future Mr. Sarkozy could confound his critics and emerge stronger politically when it is over. His forceful performance continues to fascinate the French news media, though a worsening crisis would carry high risk for him.
THE ANOINTED PRINCE
Name Dominique de Villepin
Title Prime Minister
Biography Mr. Villepin, the son of a diplomat, is widely thought to be Mr. Chirac’s heir apparent, but he has a long-term rival for advancement: Mr. Sarkozy. Once the face of France’s opposition to the American-led war in Iraq, Mr. Villepin became Mr. Chirac’s prime minister in the government shuffle that followed France’s rejection of the constitution last spring.
Position on the Unrest Mr. Villepin initially distanced himself from Mr. Sarkozy’s hard-line position but was slow in coming up with a promised “action plan” of his own that would address the frustration of youth born to immigrants. He closed ranks with Mr. Sarkozy as the violence grew, eventually declaring the country’s first state of emergency in 50 years.
Future Mr. Villepin’s admirers say he acted with appropriate gravity in the face of the situation; his critics say he seemed befuddled and was outmaneuvered by the energetic Mr. Sarkozy. This much seems certain: He has not emerged as a strong leader.
Thankfully, at least, Jean-Marie Le Pen does not seem to be gaining ground in this.