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Paris suburbs burn, 80 hurt

Villiers-le-Bel (France), Nov. 27 (Reuters): French President Nicolas Sarkozy will summon senior aides to a security meeting when he returns from China tomorrow, after a second night of violence in Paris suburbs left around 80 police hurt.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon and interior minister Michele Alliot-Marie would be among officials at the meeting, Sarkozy’s spokesman David Martinon said today.

Sarkozy will first visit a senior police officer seriously hurt in Villiers-le-Bel, Martinon said, referring to the suburb north of Paris where the deaths of two youths in a crash with a police car on Sunday sparked the latest unrest.

The deaths and the subsequent violence revived memories of the prolonged riots of two years ago, when thousands of cars were torched after two teenagers were electrocuted in a power sub-station while apparently fleeing police.

The 2005 disturbances were the worst civil unrest in France for 40 years and many blamed the harsh rhetoric of Sarkozy, who was interior minister at the time, for stoking the violence.

This time around, Sarkozy has called for calm and observers said the low-key government response to date suggested it wanted to avoid exacerbating tensions in France's deprived, ethnically diverse suburbs where relations with police are poor.

The latest disturbances distracted from Sarkozy’s success in clinching billions of euros of contracts for French firms in China, and provided a new headache for a young presidency which has been buffeted in recent weeks by transport strikes and student protests over his reforms.

Overnight, rioters pelted police with stones, petrol bombs and firecrackers that exploded over their heads during several hours of skirmishes in Villiers and nearby areas.

Despite appeals for calm from the crash victims’ families, police said rioters torched a library, a tax office and damaged dozens of shops and businesses.

“I think to attack a library, which is a place of knowledge, of learning, is completely inexcusable,” said local resident Robert Lietard outside the smouldering local library.

Five police officers were seriously hurt, one of whom was hit by a projectile apparently fired from a hunting rifle, and Alliot-Marie said security would be stepped up as a result.

“We have to take measures to stop those people who are shooting at police officers from doing so. We also need residents to help us isolate delinquents,” she told RTL radio.

Patrice Ribeiro of the Synergie police union told the same station that 77 officers had been hurt: “It’s a toll that we rarely reach in a riot. From what our colleagues on the scene told us, the situation is a lot worse than in 2005.”

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