After nearly two weeks of unrest in France, the number of violent incidents has begun dropping. French authorities believe a new law allowing local mayors to declare curfews may be having an effect.

For the first time, French authorities reported a dramatic drop in the nightly toll of violence that began in late October. The numbers of cars torched and towns affected by the unrest has dropped by two-thirds from previous statistics.

The drop coincides with the reinstatement of a 1955 law allowing local mayors to impose curfews. A number of municipalities immediately took advantage of the legislation, including the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois where the accidental death of two ethnic-African youths fleeing police unleashed the nationwide unrest.

Angry roving gangs of youths have torched thousands of cars, and set schools, churches, and municipal buildings alight in what has turned into France's worst social crisis in decades. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said foreigners who participated in the riots would be expelled from the country.

Speaking to the French national Assembly Wednesday, Mr. Sarkozy said he had asked France's regional prefects, or heads, to carry out his expulsion orders without delay - including those who had legal papers.

A poll published in Le Parisien newspaper found nearly two-thirds of French citizens approved of reinstating the temporary emergency decree for curfews.

But others, like Linda Baris, sharply criticize the legislation that was first introduced during Algeria's war of independence from France. Ms. Baris is a mother of three who lives in the housing projects of Clichy-Sous-Bois.

Ms. Baris says she is against the curfews.

"They will simply unleash more revolts, more problems," she said. "What is important is for French authorities to open up a dialogue with the angry youths who have been clashing with police for days. To try to understand them. Curfew will simply fuel fears. Why did the two youths die at Clichy? Because they were afraid of the police."

A number of opposition politicians have also criticized the curfews for being overly repressive. The curfews are only one of a series of measures announced by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to restore calm and order in France.

The French prime minister has also announced plans to promote education and job training opportunities in the country's housing projects and other low-income areas to give youths living there a better chance to succeed.