President Jacques Chirac acknowledged Monday that almost three weeks of rioting in France had revealed a "profound malaise" in the country, and he pledged to combat discrimination and work for greater ethnic diversity in all spheres of society.
In his first formal address to the nation since the violence erupted Oct. 27, Chirac stressed that fully restoring security remained his first priority and said he would ask the National Assembly to extend the current state of emergency for three months.
Concerned about scathing - and sometimes sensationalist - news reports about the unrest, the government has also started a campaign to tone down coverage of the riots abroad. Several ministers, including Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Finance Minister Thierry Breton and the government's spokesman, Jean-François Copé, invited foreign journalists to a briefing on how the situation was improving.
During his press luncheon on Monday, Breton said the riots were an opportunity to push ahead with changes to France's rigid labor market.
"We are trying to use them to change the country," Breton said.
He said Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin would soon announce a package of measures targeting the suburban areas that have been the scene of recent rioting.
Rather than focusing on legislation to curb the discrimination experienced by many people with Arabic or Arabic-sounding names, Breton said France needed to create jobs and economic growth.
"I know only one formula: Create more growth," Breton said. "It's true that we have a problem in the suburbs and that there isn't enough economic activity."
He said the incentive for France to integrate its ethnic minorities into the labor market had never been more urgent because of the aging work force.
"Next year will be the first year when the number of workers in France will decline," Breton said. "We really need them."
Tuesday, November 15
Good Luck Thierry Breton
Chirac addresses 'malaise' in France