French emergency laws helping to quell riots, say officials

[JURIST] French police and Interior Ministry [official website, in French] officials said Wednesday that newly-authorized state of emergency powers [JURIST report] were helping to subdue violence in the 13th day of rioting around the country. The government on Tuesday issued a decree [PDF text] giving local officials permission to use emergency powers authorized by a 1955 law [amended text; original 1955 version - page 1 and page 2, PDFs], which had previously been used in French colonial conflicts but never in France itself. Under the law, local authorities can impose curfews, put individuals under house arrest, carry out raids without warrants, confiscate weapons and evacuate public spaces considered to be the focus of violence. Meanwhile, human rights groups have expressed concern over rushed trials for accused rioters [AP report], saying that fast-track trials for defendants who claim they are only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time will only add to the sense of injustice among those accused.

The riots began in poor immigrant suburbs outside of Paris, and commentators have suggested that the tension in the ghettos is related to larger racial and religious issues in France, including last year's banning of religious dress in schools [JURIST report]. Since the riots began in late October, over 1,500 arrests have been made and the French Justice Ministry [official website, in French] said Wednesday that 52 adults and 23 minors have received prison sentences [press release] or have been sent to detention centers. Paris prosecutors have also opened an investigation into two teenagers [AP report] who allegedly used their blogs to urge French youths to riot and revolt against police. A 16-year-old French teen and an 18-year-old from Ghana were detained earlier this week and are being investigated for inciting harm to people and property over the Internet. Formal charges have not yet been brought, but if either teen is convicted, the charge carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. The Guardian has more. Le Monde has local coverage (in French).

2:07 PM ET - French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile, in French] has ordered that all 120 foreigners so far convicted of taking part in the riots be immediately deported, even those who were not in France illegally. BBC News has more.

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