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France's Chirac Calls for Calm Following Riots

French President Jacques Chirac appealed for calm Wednesday following six straight nights of rioting in the low-income suburbs around Paris.

The clashes began after two teenage boys were accidentally electrocuted last Thursday, as they tried to scale a wall in the gritty Paris suburb of Clichy-Sous-Bois. A public prosecutor said the boys thought they were being chased by police. Police denied they had been pursuing them.

Either way, the incident has triggered nightly riots between largely ethnic-Muslim youths and police. The unrest has spread to other low-income housing projects around Paris which have large, ethnic-North African Muslim communities.

France's Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has responded with a firmness that has sparked criticism from both the leftist opposition and from members of his own center-right party. In particular, Mr. Sarkozy used the word scum to describe the rioters, and this has been particularly controversial.

Francois Hollande, who leads the opposition Socialist Party, told reporters Wednesday that such remarks were inappropriate.

Mr. Holland said that Mr. Sarkozy should not have stigmatized an entire population of ethnic immigrants with his slights.

Now the French government is striking a more conciliatory tone. After remaining silent for almost a week, President Chirac called for firmness in dealing with the rioters, but also for dialogue and respect. He also demanded an inquiry into the Thursday deaths for the two youths.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, a political rival of Mr. Sarkozy, echoed a similar message of justice and firmness. He promised concrete responses to unemployment and other problems facing communities like Clichy-sur-Bois in the coming weeks.

But experts like Dominique Sopo, head of the anti-discrimination group SOS Racism, says words are not enough.

What's needed Mr. Sopo says, are better programs to integrate second and third-generation ethnic immigrant youths into mainstream French society. Mr. Sopo and other analysts also fear the current violence may lead to greater popular support for the far-right National Front party. The party's leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, placed second in the last presidential elections, in 2002.