PARIS—President Jacques Chirac said Monday that unrest in France's poor suburbs has revealed a "profound malaise" that the entire nation must heal with firmness and measures to combat what he called the poison of discrimination.
In his first address to the nation since the unrest erupted Oct. 27, the president said companies, unions and the media must help bring diversity to French society.
French law must be obeyed, but values and hope also must be kindled in youths living in the poor, largely immigrant suburbs ringing French cities, he said.
"These events testify to a profound malaise .... This is a crisis of direction, a crisis of reference points, it is a crisis of identity," Chirac said. "We will respond by being firm, being just and being faithful to the values of France."
He spoke after the Cabinet approved a measure to extend a state of emergency from 12 days to three months. There will be a possibility of ending the measure before the three-month term expires.
First put in place last Wednesday, the state of emergency opens the way for recourse to extraordinary action by regional authorities, such as calling curfews or conducting day-and-night searches of homes. About 40 French towns, including France's third-largest city, Lyon, have used the measure so far, imposing curfews on minors.
The policy of firmness also includes deporting foreigners implicated in violence.
The unrest has abated over the past week. But the decision to extend the state of emergency until mid-February showed that authorities fear the anger seething below the relative calm could resurface.
The magnitude of the unrest, marked by nightly the burning of vehicles, schools and warehouses around the country, has stunned France. The country's leadership and many citizens learned the depth of discontent in France's suburban housing projects, largely home to immigrants and their French-born children disillusioned by discrimination and joblessness.
The civil unrest is the worst since the student-worker revolts of May 1968 and the worst ever in the suburbs.
Chirac, speaking with the French and European Union flags behind him, appeared to rule out U.S.-style affirmative action to combat discrimination.
"There is no question of entering into the logic of quotas," he said. He defended the French model of integration, which seeks to meld citizens and residents of all backgrounds into a single mold — and which many officials and experts now say has failed.
"At stake is respect for the law but also the success of our policy of integration," Chirac said.
The unrest has provided a perfect forum for the far-right, which blames French ills on immigration. At a rally Monday that drew about 300 supporters, National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who faced off Chirac in 2002, castigated the immigration policy.
"We let in 10 million foreigners over 30 years — it's wild insanity. No country can handle that invasion," Le Pen said.
Philippe de Villiers, whose Movement for France promotes French sovereignty, echoed Le Pen, saying that "migratory waves" are at the root of the "war of the suburbs."
The accidental electrocution deaths of two teenagers who hid from police in a power substation in the northeast Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois sparked the unrest that has hopscotched around the country.
The French president, who turns 73 later this month, was hospitalized in September for a blood vessel problem that many thought was a stroke. He showed no signs of an ailment but, unusually, wore spectacles, as he had in his youth.
Chirac announced the creation of a corps of volunteers to offer training for 50,000 youth by 2007. He told companies and unions they must encourage diversity and support employment for youths from tough neighborhoods.
French media, which are not very ethnically diverse, must "better reflect the reality of France today," Chirac said.
"We will not build anything enduring without fighting this poison for society which is discrimination."
Chirac for a second time pointed a finger at parents, whom officials have blamed for failing to stop teenage youths from the destructive rampages.
"Parental authority is vital. Families must assume all of their responsibilities. Those that refuse should be punished as the law allows."
While condemning the violence, Chirac also reached out to disgruntled youth.
"I want to say to the children of difficult neighborhoods, whatever their origins, that they are all the daughters and sons of the Republic," he said.
Scattered arson attacks continued early Monday. But the number of vehicle burnings, considered by some a barometer of unrest, dropped sharply — 284 compared to 374 the previous night, police said. A week ago, 1,400 vehicles were torched in a single night.
— The Associated Press