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Vandals set buses on fire in French suburbs

Reuters / Francois Murphy | October 26 2006

Vandals set three buses ablaze near French cities overnight, police said on Thursday, on the eve of the anniversary of riots that rocked France's multi-ethnic suburbs.

Masked assailants torched buses in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre and the eastern suburb of Bagnolet but passengers fled before the flames engulfed the vehicles. Television footage showed the burnt-out wrecks.

An empty, parked private coach was set on fire in Venissieux, a suburb of the eastern city of Lyon, and three youths ordered passengers off a bus in Athis Mons, south of Paris, and tried without success to set it on fire.

In the Bagnolet attack, one assailant held a pistol to the head of the driver while others forced passengers to get off.

The attacks followed a daylight assault on a bus just south of Paris on Sunday. Youths on ethnically mixed estates around the capital have also staged several apparently concerted attacks on security forces in recent weeks.

"We cannot accept the unacceptable ... We refuse to see no-go zones created in our country," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told his monthly news conference in the northwestern suburb of Cergy-Pontoise.

"There will be arrests and immediate, exemplary punishment," he added.

Police say the violence has been building ahead of the October 27 anniversary of last year's riots.

Then, youths from mainly immigrant backgrounds burned cars and wrecked shops for three weeks in France's worst unrest for decades, blamed on poverty and discrimination.

Police appealed for witnesses and bus drivers refused to enter some of Paris's most troubled suburbs to protest against the latest attacks.

TENSION

Cars are regularly torched in France's poor suburbs but attacks on buses are rare.

In the first six months of 2006, some 21,000 cars were burned out and some 2,882 attacks registered against the police, fire and ambulance services, the RG police intelligence service said.

The leftist opposition accused the government on Thursday of not doing enough to resolve tensions in the deprived suburbs that ring most French cities.

"It is about time the government reacted. This is an emergency," the Communist party, which traditionally draws heavy support in the capital's housing estates, said in a statement.

But Villepin said his government had done more than any other to improve the lot of people living in the suburbs.

"Clearly all the problems are not going to be resolved in a day. However, this government has really made changes, changes which are of a long-term nature and which are beginning to bear fruit," he said.

Security in the suburbs is likely to be a major issue in the 2007 presidential election, with hardline Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy garnering much support but also sparking controversy with his tough approach to law and order.

(Additional reporting by Sophie Louet, Gerard Bon and Catherine Lagrange in Lyon)

 

 

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