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Chirac Vows Firm Response to Riots

In a nationally televised speech Monday night, French President Jacques Chirac vowed to bring rioting youths to justice and promised to address the root causes of the unrest. Lisa Bryant reports for VOA on Mr. Chirac's remarks, which came hours after his government extended a state of emergency.

In a 14-minute speech, broadcast live on television and radio, President Chirac described the crisis that has swept the nation since late October as a crisis of sense and a crisis of identity. He said the first thing to do was to re-establish public order.

Many French have difficulties, Mr. Chirac noted. But, he said that violence doesn't solve anything, and that those belonging to the national community must respect its rules.

This was Mr. Chirac's first formal address to the nation since rioting and arson attacks swept across France two weeks ago.  He has been widely criticized for remaining silent for so long in the face of what many see as France's most serious social crisis in a generation.

Largely blamed on ethnic-immigrant youths, the violence was unleashed after the accidental deaths by electrocution of two youths in a Paris suburb who were hiding from police.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Chirac's center-right government approved a three-month extension of a state of emergency declared last week. The law allows regions and towns to impose nighttime curfews to get youths off the streets, and keep public peace. Police say the violence has diminished
considerably.

Mr. Chirac also said the government would begin addressing what many believe are the root causes for the violence: poverty, exclusion, discrimination and unemployment that many ethnic immigrants face in France, particularly those living in dilapidated suburban housing projects.

Speaking to children living in the projects, which he called difficult neighborhoods, Mr. Chirac said they were sons and daughters of the French Republic.  He said France cannot construct anything durable without respect and with racism and intolerance rising.  Nothing durable can be constructed, Mr. Chirac said, if the poison of discrimination is allowed to fester.

The president announced several new measures, including the creation of a youth civil service corps that will include 50,000 young people by 2007. He called for businesses to give fair treatment to those applying for jobs, and for local lawmakers to respect public housing quotas. Mr. Chirac also called on the French to change their mentality and create a more open society that values its diversity.

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