A fire at a furniture warehouse in Arras, France

Persson Critical of "Rabble" Comment

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson has criticized the way the French government has handled the crisis there.

Attacks by rioters in France dropped sharply for the first time in nearly two weeks of rampages as a state of emergency took effect Wednesday, though widespread unrest still flared in around some 100 towns overnight, with 617 cars torched and 330 people arrested.

Persson says the French government has chosen confrontation, which makes it difficult to open a dialog. The Swedish leader is most critical of France’s Interior Minister for calling rebellious youth in immigrant suburbs a rabble.

Persson also dismisses the warning from the Swedish Liberal Party that street violence could spread here as unnecessary, although he says it is important to remain vigilant.

The Liberals say they are introducing legislation to triple the number of police in 100 areas marked by high unemployment, poor school grades, and low election turn-out. The Liberals, who are part of the opposition alliance, stress that they want to see more ordinary officers in those areas, not riot police.

                Meanwhile, Integration Minister Jens Orback says Sweden is unlikely to see street riots such as those in France. Orback says the class divisions here are smaller, the lowest standard of living is much higher, and Sweden has a more finely meshed safety net.

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