Paris Riots in Perspective

The riots in the Paris suburbs highlights the many problems plaguing France's capital city, as well as the rapidly changing face of the nation.

Population of France: 61 million.

Population in Paris and neighboring suburbs: There are more than 1.6 million immigrants living in the Paris region.

Thirty-seven percent of all immigrants in France live in the Paris region, according to 1999 census data. Twenty-eight percent come from a European Union member country, 29 percent come from Northern Africa (Morocco), 15 percent come from another African country, 17 percent come from Asia and 7 percent come from a non-EU country.

Changing Face: After WWII, France was in dire need of workers to catch up with other industrialized nations. At first, immigrants primarily came from Italy and Spain. Then they came from Northern African countries, Western African countries and Portugal. In the middle of the 1960s, an economic crisis hit the country, creating a glut of workers looking for jobs.

In 1974, the government started limiting immigration, and the influx of immigrants dropped to 74,000 per year in 1997 from a high of 220,000 per year in the early 1980s.

Many of the men who had come to France to work brought over their wives and kids to live with them in their adopted country. Immigrants -- especially those from Africa -- had many more children than native French citizens, and often more than one wife (a 1993 law cracked down on polygamous marriages).

At the end of 1994, there were about 5 million people of Muslim descent living in France.

Crux of the Problem: It is currently estimated that 40 percent of the French population descends from these different waves of migrations, making France the most ethnically diverse country in Europe. Nevertheless, the immigrants from other European countries have had an easier time blending in (race and religion being key), while the "non-European" groups have tended to assimilate at a slower pace.

Difficult Integration: Because of the difficulty integrating into French society, many young males of African and Arab descent work for the lowest wages and often live in ghettos where crime is rampant.

"Western Europe society has not managed to integrate second- or third-generation immigrants," said Scott Atran, Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

France has a chronic problem of not knowing how to shrug off the "ossified economic and political structure" that rules the country, he added.

Religion: Roman Catholic - 83 to 88 percent; Protestant - 2 percent; Jewish - 1 percent ; Muslim - 5 to 10 percent.

Unemployment rate: 10.1 percent.

Unemployment in the Paris "immigrant ghettos": 20 to 40 percent, according to varying sources.

Riots: The unrest began after two North-African youths, Bouna Traore, aged 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, were accidentally electrocuted at an electricity sub-station in Clichy-sous-Bois. Protesting by burning cars is not uncommon in the immigrant-populated suburbs, but this marks the worst civil disobedience in the last decade.

Rioters: Bands of 10 to 15 youths, some as young as 12 years old.

Riot Epicenter: Seine-Saint-Denis is northeast of Paris identified as the "93 departement." Hot zones within the departement include Aulnay-sous-Bois, Clichy-sous-Bois, Bobigny, La Courneuve.

Most tourists never travel to these suburbs, but the commuter train from the Charles-de-Gaulle airport to the center of Paris does stop at most of these places.

Copycat Riots: The rock-throwing, torching of cars and other acts of vandalism have spread to other immigrant ghettos in the ring around Paris but have not yet occurred in the city's center.

Protesters have used the internet to get other cities to join the fight, with the ultimate goal of making the evening newscast, according to French newspaper, Le Figaro. There has been mild trouble reported in other cities, including Marseilles, Dijon and Perpignan.

Policing: A lot of these "ghetto" suburbs lack security and policing. Gangs, running the suburbs, have slowly pushed out police presence. In Seine-Saint-Denis, security personnel have fallen from 468 in 2000 to 205 now, according to Le Monde.

Housing Shortage: As in many cities around the world, Paris rents have gone through the roof. As a result, many people have been forced to move out or shack up in dilapitated buildings. Last year more than 100,000 people competed for 12,000 available subsidized housing units in Paris, according to official figures. Among the hardest-hit without housing are immigrants (legal and illegal.) The three back-to-back Paris fires over the spring and summer, which killed many children, occurred in such rundown buildings.

Political Backdrop: A week before the riots began, the interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy vowed a "merciless war" on suburban violence, and when the troubles started, he called the rioters "hoodlums." The rioting has become embroiled in the political succession war on the right between the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, and Sarkozy, ahead of the 2007 presidential elections.

Sources: National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), Central Intelligence Agency