As many as 60 cars still burn nightly in France

PARIS, Dec 8 (AFP) - Between 40 and 60 cars are still being burned nightly in France more than three weeks after a wave of suburban violence subsided, a senior interior ministry official said Thursday.

Stephane Fratacci, the ministry's director of public liberties, was arguing against a writ brought before France highest administrative court -- the State Council -- for the country's month-long state of emergency to be suspended.

The jurists who brought the suit said that the measure was no longer needed as normality had been restored in the poor neighbourhoods where the rioting broke out on October 27.

But Fratacci said that last Saturday night 79 vehicles were burned, 46 on Sunday and 50 on Monday. And he urged "the greatest caution" ahead of the end-of-year holidays which regularly see outbursts of violence in suburbs of France's major cities.

Meanwhile a collective representing some 70 left-wing associations and unions was to present a "symbolic" petition before the country's Constitional Council Friday demanding abrogation of the state of emergency.

"This law, which is extremely dangerous for public freedoms, came into effect without ever being brought before the Constitutional Council. Another step was thus taken on the road of destruction for our state of law," the collective said in a statement.

The Constitutional Council vets new laws to ensure they are in keeping with the 1958 constitution of France's Fifth Republic. However its powers cannot be invoked by groups of private citizens.

On November 9 the government of President Jacques Chirac activated a 1955 law to declare a nationwide state of emergency in order to quell the most serious rioting in France since the student disturbances of May 1968.

The following week parliament approved a law to extend the emergency by three months.

The emergency powers enable state-appointed governors -- or prefects -- to declare curfews, ban public meetings and issue house-arrest orders.