- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

LE BLANC MESNIL, France — The United States government warned Americans yesterday to stay clear of violence-wracked Parisian suburbs, as rioting gangs of Arab and African youths, mostly Muslims, torched cars, schools and buses for an eighth straight night.

French authorities struggled to gain control of the worst rioting the country has seen in a decade.

The unrest has spread beyond the Paris area, with five cars burned in the eastern city of Dijon and 11 set afire in the southern city of Marseille.

In a particularly gruesome incident, attackers doused a 50-year-old woman on crutches with a flammable liquid and set her afire as she tried to get off a bus in the suburb of Sevran, judicial officials said.

The bus had been forced to stop because of burning objects in its path. She was rescued by the driver and hospitalized with severe burns.

Justice Minister Pascal Clement deplored the incident yesterday, saying it caused him “great emotion.”

A national police spokesman, Patrick Hamon, said rioters were communicating by cell phone text messages or e-mail — arranging meetings and warning each other about police operations.

The violence, which started Oct. 27 and has continued every night since, has exposed the discontent simmering in France’s poor suburbs.

The Seine-Saint-Denis region, where the troubles are centered, is dominated by low-income housing projects that are home to many African Muslim immigrants and their children and beset by high unemployment and crime.

Across the Paris region, the burned hulks of at least 520 cars littered streets, an increase from previous nights. Five police officers were slightly injured by rioters throwing stones or bottles, the Interior Ministry said.

At a depot in Trappes, to the southwest, 27 buses were incinerated, officials said. In Sevran, flames also engulfed two elementary schools and the construction site for a new multimedia library, United Press International reported.

However, there were “few direct clashes” with security forces late Thursday and early yesterday, no bullets fired at police, and far fewer large groups of rioters, said Jean-Francois Cordet, the top government official in Seine-Saint-Denis.

Instead, Mr. Cordet said, the unrest in Seine-Saint-Denis was led by “numerous small and highly mobile groups” that burned 187 vehicles and five buildings, including three warehouses.

A commuter train line linking Paris to Charles de Gaulle Airport ran limited service yesterday after two trains were targeted Wednesday night.

At the State Department in Washington, spokesman Sean McCormack repeated the warning. He said the riots were a French internal issue. Certainly, as anybody would, we mourn the loss of life in these kinds of situations. But, again, these are issues for the French people and the French government to address.”

The French Foreign Ministry said it was concerned that foreign media coverage was exaggerating the danger.

“I don’t have the feeling that foreign tourists in Paris are in any way placed in danger by these events,” ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said.

He said the government was “sometimes a bit surprised” by the foreign coverage.

However, the violence has alarmed the government of President Jacques Chirac, whose calls for calm have gone unheeded.

“This is the first time [suburban violence] has lasted so long, and the government appears taken aback at the magnitude,” said Pascal Perrineau, director of the Center for Study of French Political Life.

The unrest erupted with youths angry over the deaths of Bouna Traore, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, who were fatally shocked when they hid in a power substation in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, thinking police were chasing them.

Bouna’s brother, Siyakah Traore, called for protesters to “calm down and stop ransacking everything.”

“This is not how we are going to have our voices heard,” he told RTL radio, adding his voice to neighborhood groups working to stop the violence.

Dozens of residents and community leaders are trying to defuse tensions, with some walking between rioters and police to urge rioters to back down.

Abderrhamane Bouhout, head of the Bilal mosque in Clichy-sous-Bois, said he had enlisted 50 young men to try stop the violence. “We’ve had positive results,” he said.

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