A Year After Suburban Riots, France Is Mostly Calm

The burnt out remains of a city bus sit on a road near council housing in Le Blanc-Mesnil, north of Paris, October 27, 2006. Youth gangs around the French capital have set fire to passenger buses during the last week, a year after three weeks of civil unrest hit the Paris suburbs in 2005.
The burnt out remains of a city bus sit on a road near council housing in Le Blanc-Mesnil, north of Paris, October 27, 2006. Youth gangs around the French capital have set fire to passenger buses during the last week, a year after three weeks of civil unrest hit the Paris suburbs in 2005. (Benoit Tessier - Reuters)
By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 28, 2006

PARIS, Oct. 27 -- French officials deployed 4,000 extra police officers in the country's poorest suburban areas Friday as the anniversary of last year's wave of arson attacks arrived with only scattered incidents of violence, according to early police and news media reports.

The security precautions followed several weeks of increasing tension in the suburban areas of Paris where residents -- most of whom are Arab and African immigrants and their French-born children -- have complained that the government had not lived up to promises it made, after last year's nationwide rampage, to improve living conditions and employment opportunities.

Small groups of men -- some of them armed -- attacked two public buses in the northern suburbs of Paris early in the evening. In one incident, two armed men boarded a bus in front of a train station in the town of Le Blanc-Mesnil, yanked the driver off the vehicle and ordered all the passengers off before throwing a gasoline bomb and burning the bus, French media reported. Authorities reduced bus service into the area and limited night bus service in many other suburbs.

In the past week, about half a dozen public buses have been attacked and set ablaze in suburbs of Paris and Lyon, and gangs wielding rocks and metal pipes have ambushed police in some Paris suburbs.

Friday morning, in the northern Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, several hundred residents marched to memorialize the deaths of two local youths last Oct. 27 -- the incident that set off France's worst civil unrest since the student protests in 1968.

The two teenagers were electrocuted when they leapt into an electrical substation to escape police who witnesses said were chasing them. French officials denied that police had been pursuing the youths.

Marchers carried a banner declaring, "Died for nothing." The marchers stopped at the electrical substation where the youths perished and recited prayers in French and Arabic as their families laid plastic-wrapped flowers against the fence.

"Last year we crossed Clichy by weaving between the burnt-out wrecks of cars, creating an image of our city that we didn't want to see," Mayor Claude Dillain told the gathering during a solemn ceremony Friday morning. "Once again France, and even the world, is watching us and waiting to see what we do. So I appeal solemnly for calm and dignity to prevail here."

During last year's violence, gangs of boys and young men torched more than 10,000 cars and attacked nearly 500 schools and other public buildings, mostly government institutions.

Allegations that the government has failed to respond adequately to demands for improvements in the poor suburbs, along with parallel concerns over security and an increasing Muslim population, are among the most contentious issues in the French presidential campaign.


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