- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France — Two public buses were torched in a Paris suburb yesterday, the anniversary of the two deaths that ignited weeks of riots in largely immigrant housing projects across France a year ago.

Both buses were burned in Blanc Mesnil, a northern Paris suburb near Clichy-sous-Bois, where last year’s violence began, police said.

In the first attack, two armed men forced passengers off the bus before setting it alight, police said. No one was injured.

The second bus was set on fire shortly after.

Witness Thierry Ange, 19, said four hooded men stood in front of the bus, forcing it to stop. He said they pulled the driver out by his tie. He said one of the attackers hit a passenger and kicked her down the bus’ steps.

The incidents were the latest in a series of bus burnings over the past few days.

Flaming cars became a symbol of three weeks of rampages last year, which jolted the nation into recognizing discontent among many minorities — especially those of Arab and black African origin, and France’s 5 million-strong Muslim population.

The outburst of anger at the accidental deaths of the two teens — who were electrocuted in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois while hiding from police on Oct. 27, 2005 — grew into a broader challenge of the French state.

Several hundred people marched silently yesterday through Clichy-sous-Bois, northeast of Paris, in honor of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traore. Zyed, 17, was buried in his father’s native Tunisia. Bouna, 15, was of Mauritanian descent.

Adolescent boys in hooded sweat shirts made up a large part of the mixed-race crowd, their heads bent as prayers were read in Arabic and French.

Zyed and Bouna “became a symbol in the projects,” said one of Bouna’s cousins, Coulibaly.

“I don’t see why the violence should recur. That will not solve the problems,” she said.

A memorial to the youths was erected yesterday near City Hall, though the site where they died is adorned only with the graffiti and rubble that are the signature of it and similar neighborhoods.

Clichy-sous-Bois has no police station. Officers patrolling here come from outside and have no connection to residents.

Unemployment among the city’s 28,000 residents is 23.5 percent — the national average is 9 percent — and is 32 percent for those between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the newspaper La Croix.

The police presence was discreet at yesterday’s march, but police fanned out elsewhere to brace for possible nighttime violence, with 500 extra riot police assigned to Paris’ poor neighborhoods for the anniversary.

Some 100 cars were torched nationwide overnight, half of them in the Paris region, police said. The figure was higher than usual — police say between 30 and 50 cars are set on fire during an average week, though some weekends the figure jumps to 100. On the most fiery night of last year’s riots, more than 1,400 cars went up in flames.

Attackers forced passengers off four buses before torching them in recent days. In response, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to assign police to protect buses serving some Paris neighborhoods.

France’s trouble integrating minorities and the recent unrest are becoming political priorities in the campaign for next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

Instead of France’s vaunted “egalite,” or equality, many immigrants and their French-born children suffer police harassment, struggle to find work and live in cinder-block public housing mired in crime and poverty.

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