IN OTHER WORDS: While Paris burns

As shocking as the riots that have swept through the depressed outskirts of Paris and other French cities over the past two weeks has been, President Jacques Chirac and his ministers appear to have no idea what to do and to whom to talk. Their floundering illustrates deeper problems: a failed approach to absorb immigrants, an out-of-touch political elite, and ministers more interested in polls.

There can be no condoning the rioting, which has grown both in extent and violence since it erupted on Oct. 27. French-Arab and French-African youths have burned cars, businesses and public buildings and fought with the police and fire fighters. One has now died. This wave of criminal violence is likely to reinforce prejudices against France’s 5 to 6 million Muslims.

Although pm Dominique de Villepin seems unwilling to break from the failed integration model, he at least seems to recognise the importance of cultivating contacts with credible leaders in the immigrant suburbs. He also talks about addressing the pressure-cooker conditions of the outer suburbs, including crime-ridden ho-using projects, scandalously high unemployment rates, and toxic tension between the police and the predominantly Arab and African residents. Meanwhile, the fires continue to spread.