PARIS -- French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that his government would use "all means" necessary to quell violence after rioting in northern France left more than a dozen police officers injured and several buildings damaged or destroyed.
Hollande, who was elected in May, pledged that public security would be a priority for his fledgling Socialist Party administration.
French police said rioting youths opened fire on them amid violent clashes in the city of Amiens, about 60 miles north of Paris, on Monday evening. The area is troubled by high rates of unemployment and crime.
Sixteen policemen were reported injured and several buildings partially or totally destroyed. Fire and police services were prevented from entering the area by barricades of burning cars and garbage cans.
Several drivers were reportedly injured when rioters stole their cars. Local officials said the estimated cost of the damage ran into millions of dollars. However, no arrests were reported.
"They attack police officers with firearms, burn public equipment that is needed by the people of these working-class areas and make people afraid," Valls said.
One local official told journalists that while there were frequent outbreaks of violence in Amiens,
the city had "never known incidents of such gravity." The official added that dozens of vehicles and at least three public buildings had been partly destroyed. One of these, an infants' school, was ransacked and partially burned, and a sports center was destroyed.
Rioters set fire to about 60 garbage bins Monday night in an attempt to hamper police and firefighters. The windows of a local police station were smashed.
Gilles Demailly, the Socialist mayor of Amiens, described the trouble spot as a "scene of desolation" and said tension had been mounting in the area "for months."
"There are burned garbage cans and cars everywhere. We have regular incidents, but it's been years since I've known a night so violent and with so much destruction," Demailly said.
About 150 officers were mobilized, along with a helicopter and units of special riot police. When law enforcement teams fired tear gas and rubber bullets, the rioters responded with gunfire and a hail of stones, bottles and other objects.
"We found seven bullet casings of .12-caliber, so we know they were using guns to fire against the police," Marc Richez of the police union Synergie Officiers told reporters.
One resident told Le Parisien newspaper that "it was like being in a Western."
The violence first erupted Sunday when police on a routine patrol clashed with around 60 local youths in one area of Amiens. The police immediately used tear gas and fired soft rubber balls into the crowd, a response some residents criticized as "excessive."
After a period of relative calm on Monday, violence broke out again late Monday night and into Tuesday.
The area of north Amiens where the rioting broke out is classified as one of the 15 most "difficult" urban areas in France. It was recently named a "priority security zone" by Hollande's government.
-- Kim Willsher
Photo: Police take up positions Tuesday after riots broke out in the northern French city of Amiens. Credit: Guillaume Clement / European Pressphoto Agency.