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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Vandals set buses on fire in Paris suburbs

PARIS (Reuters) - Masked vandals set ablaze two buses near Paris overnight, police said on Thursday, in an upsurge of violence on the eve of the anniversary of riots in France's multi-ethnic suburbs.

Passengers managed to flee the buses in the western suburb of Nanterre and the eastern suburb of Bagnolet before the flames engulfed the vehicles.

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.

Police say the violence has been building ahead of the October 27 anniversary of last year's riots in which angry youths from mainly immigrant backgrounds burnt cars and wrecked shops for three weeks in a protest blamed on poverty and discrimination.

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

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told iTELE television the vandals were guilty of "attempted murder".

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


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 burnt 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 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 for his tough approach to law and order issues.
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