- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

1:59 p.m.

PARIS — Youths forced passengers off three buses and set the vehicles on fire overnight in suburban Paris, raising tensions today ahead of the first anniversary of the riots that engulfed France’s run-down, heavily immigrant neighborhoods.

No injuries were reported, but worried bus drivers refused to enter some suburbs after dark, and the prime minister urged a swift, stern response.

The riots in October 2005 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 them with handguns — stormed a bus in Montreuil east of Paris early today and forced the passengers off, the RATP transport authority said. They then drove off and set the bus on fire.

Late yesterday, 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. Elsewhere, between six and 10 youths herded passengers off a bus in the western suburb of Nanterre late yesterday and set it alight.

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.”

Mr. de 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.

The overnight attacks and recent ambushes on police have raised concern about the changing character of suburban violence, which seems more premeditated than last year’s spontaneous outcry and no longer restricted to the housing projects. The use of handguns was unusual — last year’s rioters were armed primarily with crowbars, stones, sticks or gasoline bombs.

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