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France Lifts Two-Month State of Emergency

The French government has decided to lift a state of emergency imposed two months ago, when riots and arson attacks swept across France. The situation has calmed, but critics warn the unrest may return.

The government instituted the state of emergency in November, during the worst social unrest to hit France in nearly 40 years. The trouble began in Paris-area suburbs in late October, after two youths of African origin were accidentally electrocuted while hiding from the police, and the violence spread across the nation. Nearly 9,000 vehicles were burned and 3,000 people arrested during three weeks of turmoil.

French President Jacques Chirac has called for the state of emergency to be lifted as of Wednesday. The decree allows local officials to impose curfews, conduct house-to-house searches, and ban public gatherings. And while many towns decided not to impose such measures, the violence abated rapidly.

But the state of emergency was controversial from the beginning, and critics like Dominique Sopo, the head of the anti-discrimination group SOS Racism, say it should never have been imposed.

Mr. Sopo denounced the state of emergency as simply a political gesture that offers only a law-and-order response to the problem at hand. He said Mr. Chirac's center-right government has failed to address discrimination facing ethnic-immigrants, which has stoked anger and ultimately unleashed the wave of violence.

French officials have unveiled a raft of plans to address the problems of youths and others living in France's gritty suburban ghettos. Many are second-and third-generation ethnic immigrants and French citizens - yet are not integrated into French society.

The measures range from offering better educational opportunities and tackling job discrimination, to restoring funding for neighborhood services the government cut a couple of years ago, but Mr. Sopo is among a number of critics who say that, so far, they have not seen any results.

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