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paris bus burnt 88.(Photo by: AP)
Buses torched around Paris ahead of anniversary of riots
Villepin says efforts should be directed to "revitalize" troubled neighborhoods.
Youths forced passengers off three buses and set them on fire in suburbs around Paris in nighttime attacks that raised tension Thursday in rundown, immigrant-heavy neighborhoods a year after riots shocked the nation. No injuries were reported in the incidents, which came before Friday's anniversary of the start of the 2005 unrest. Worried bus drivers refused to enter some areas after dark, and the prime minister urged a swift stern response to the bus torchings. Last year's riots raged through housing projects in suburbs nationwide, springing in part from anger over entrenched discrimination against immigrants and their French-born children, many of them Muslims from former French colonies in Africa. Despite an influx of funds and promises, disenchantment still thrives in those communities. About 10 attackers - five of whom were armed with handguns - stormed a bus in Montreuil east of Paris early Thursday, forcing the passengers off, the RATP transport authority said. They then drove off and set the bus on fire. The bus driver was treated for shock, the RATP said. The handguns were unusual - last year's rioters were armed primarily with crowbars, stones, sticks or gasoline bombs. Late Wednesday, three attackers forced passengers off another bus in Athis-Mons, south of Paris, and tossed a Molotov cocktail inside, police officials said. The driver managed to put out the fire. In yet another attack late Wednesday night, between six and 10 youths herded passengers off a bus in the western suburb of Nanterre and set it alight. These attacks, and recent ambushes on police, have raised concern about the changing character of suburban violence, more premeditated than last year's spontaneous outcry and no longer restricted to the housing projects. Regional authorities said the Nanterre bus line, which passes near Paris' financial district, La Defense, was not considered a high-risk area. Fran×—ois Saglier, director of bus service at the RATP, said the attacks happened "without prior warning and not necessarily in neighborhoods considered difficult." The RATP was to hold a meeting later Thursday with unions to determine which routes would be changed or limited in response to the unrest. Unions demanded that the RATP allow drivers to exercise their right to stop work in case of imminent danger. "We will take measures that become necessary to avoid sensitive neighborhoods," Saglier told a news conference. The drivers feel "worry but at the same time a great sense of responsibility," he said. The transit authority in the Essonne region south of Paris on Wednesday suspended nighttime bus service for security reasons following "multiple incidents," including a tear gas bomb. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the events "should lead to an immediate response." "We cannot accept the unacceptable," he told reporters in the northern suburb of Cergy-Pontoise. "There will be arrests ... That is our responsibility." Villepin also said efforts should be directed to "revitalize" troubled neighborhoods, and repeated the government's insistence that authorities rid France of "lawless zones" where youth gangs operate. Dominique Planchon, a spokesman for SGP police union, drew a direct connection between the attack and last year's rioting. "We can imagine it has to do with the one year anniversary of 2005 and naturally my colleagues fear the worst for 2006," Planchon told Associated Press Television News. France's inability to better integrate minorities and recent violence against police are becoming major political issues as the campaign heats up for next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who is considering whether to run in next year's presidential election, said Thursday that attacks demonstrate "a desire to kill." "Some individuals are looking for provocations, and sometimes go further," she said on i-Tele television. She acknowledged people facing unemployment and overcrowded housing "have trouble finding their place" in society. The three weeks of riots were sparked by the deaths on Oct. 27, 2005 of two young boys of African descent who were electrocuted in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois, northeast of Paris, while hiding from police.
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