A week of riots in poor neighborhoods outside Paris gained dangerous new momentum Thursday, with youths shooting at police and firefighters and attacking trains and symbols of the French state.

Facing mounting criticism, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin vowed to restore order as the violence that erupted Oct. 27 spread to at least 20 towns, highlighting the frustration simmering in housing projects that are home to many North African immigrants.

As Ed Cone notes this has been a long time coming. Similar to Ed’s story, when Helen and I went to visit her sister in the 20th Arrondissement, the cab driver gave us a long diatribe on how that neighborhood was no good because of all the blacks and Arabs. I actually thought it was rather pleasant. By all accounts, however, the suburban housing projects where the riots are taking place are not.

UPDATE: Meanwhile some people are noting that the BBC is covering the riots far less vigorously than it would cover similar riots in the United States. The Economist comes in for criticism, too.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Much more from Amir Taheri:

When the police arrive on the scene, the rioters attack them with stones, knives and baseball bats.

The police respond by firing tear-gas grenades and, on occasions, blank shots in the air. Sometimes the youths fire back — with real bullets.

These scenes are not from the West Bank but from 20 French cities, mostly close to Paris, that have been plunged into a European version of the intifada that at the time of writing appears beyond control.

The troubles first began in Clichy-sous-Bois, an underprivileged suburb east of Paris, a week ago. France’s bombastic interior minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, responded by sending over 400 heavily armed policemen to “impose the laws of the republic,” and promised to crush “the louts and hooligans” within the day. Within a few days, however, it had dawned on anyone who wanted to know that this was no “outburst by criminal elements” that could be handled with a mixture of braggadocio and batons.

By Monday, everyone in Paris was speaking of “an unprecedented crisis.” Both Sarkozy and his boss, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, had to cancel foreign trips to deal with the riots.

Read the whole thing. Meanwhile, here’s more on the subject from the New York Sun:

Back in the 1990s, the French sneered at America for the Los Angeles riots. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported in 1992: “the consensus of French pundits is that something on the scale of the Los Angeles riots could not happen here, mainly because France is a more humane, less racist place with a much stronger commitment to social welfare programs.” President Mitterrand, the Washington Post reported in 1992, blamed the riots on the “conservative society” that Presidents Reagan and Bush had created and said France is different because it “is the country where the level of social protection is the highest in the world.”

How the times have changed. Muslims in Paris’s suburbs are out shooting at police and firefighters, burning cars and buildings, and throwing rocks at commuter trains. Even children are out on the streets – it was reported that a 10-year-old was arrested. The trigger for the riots was the electrocution of two teenagers last Thursday, which the rioters say came following a police chase, a charge the police deny. But even if the charge by the rioters is true, that the police are culpable in the deaths of the two youths, the fact that such an incident would spark a riot is a sign of something deeper at work – no doubt France’s failure to integrate its immigrant Muslim community.

It turns out that France’s Muslim community lives in areas rampant with crime, poverty, and unemployment, much the fault of France’s prized welfare system.

Read the whole thing here, too. Worrisomely, the riots are spreading beyond Paris.

Lots more coverage at ¡No Pasarán! Just keep scrolling. And Johnathan Pearce has some thoughts.

The Belmont Club looks at what’s next and observes:

The riots have already reached 20 suburbs of Paris. The Reuters story suggests they may now be spreading to other cities. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is hinting darkly of conspiracies. Should one conclude even more serious developments are in the offing? I don’t know. I think that neither Sarkozy nor the conspirators he refers to understand the exact potential of this thing, which is behaving like a chaotic system whose trajectory is difficult to predict except in the very short term.

Ideally, Sarkozy would be looking to simplify the situation by fixing some variables so that the remainder of the system will behave in a more linear manner; gradually damping it down until it can be controlled. But splits within the French cabinet have done the opposite: they have added more variables to the mix and now it’s shake, rattle and roll.

In these situations, as most rabble-rousers know, there is typically a race on the ground to see who can ‘harness’ the energies unleashed to best advantage. My own guess, without any special knowledge, is that ‘community moderates’, ideological radicals and even gangsters are in a derby to see who can control events. The French government by contrast, seems tied up in knots and is casting around for leverage, a way to get a handle on the events of the past week. Things could stop tomorrow or zoom off in some unexpected direction.

I’m hoping for “stop,” as I think this could get really ugly if it doesn’t.

Could Australia be next?