Marauding youths torched hundreds of vehicles overnight and on Saturday in renewed violence coinciding with the first anniversary of riots that exposed a deep schism between poor North African immigrants and mainstream France.
A group of teenagers set one bus on fire Saturday in the southern French port city of Marseille, seriously wounding a passenger. Three others suffered from smoke inhalation, police said. Two other public buses and 277 vehicles around the country were burned overnight, police said.
Six police were injured and 47 people were arrested, ministry officials said. Still the Interior Ministry described the night as “relative calm,” noting that up to 100 cars are torched by youths in troubled neighborhoods on an average night.
Police had braced for a bigger replay of violence in the poor suburbs predominantly made up of Muslims from former French colonies in Africa. Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the deaths of two teens that ignited three weeks of riots in 2005.
The rioting was fueled by anger at France’s failure to offer equal opportunities to many minorities — especially Arabs and blacks — and France’s 5 million-strong Muslim population.
France’s trouble integrating minorities and the suburban unrest are becoming hot political issues in the campaign for next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The government passed an equal opportunities law this spring and has poured funds into “sensitive” areas, but disenchantment is still pervasive.
Most trouble near Paris
The latest unrest centered on the troubled suburbs that ring Paris. Half the cars burned nationwide overnight were torched in the region around the capital. Of the 47 arrests, 33 people were taken into custody in the Paris suburbs, mostly for throwing projectiles, burning cars or generally vandalizing property, police said.
The national police said about 4,000 extra police and riot officers were deployed across the country to cope with a possible resurgence of violence. Some 7,000 police are at the ready on an average night in France, officials have said.
The bus attacks late Friday were not far from the site where the two teens were electrocuted in a power substation in Paris suburb Clichy-sous-Bois on Oct. 27, 2005. The two were hiding after what they thought was a police chase.
One bus was engulfed in flames at the foot of a high-rise housing project.
“Four guys attacked Bus 346,” said witness Thierry Ange, 19. “They made everyone get off, then they hit a woman and dragged out the bus driver by his tie,” then torched the bus with a gasoline bomb in a bottle, he said.
The blackened remains of another bus burned earlier stood across town. Two armed men had forced passengers off the bus, police said.
Youths also tried to burn a bus in Reims in eastern France, and attackers hurled metal balls at an empty bus in Trappes, west of Paris, the Interior Ministry said.
Scores of police, wielding shields and backed by a helicopter shining its searchlight, swept into a tough housing project in Montfermeil, a town near Clichy-sous-Bois, and several youths responded by throwing stones.
Paris’ transport authority responded to the violence by curtailing bus services in the Seine-Saint-Denis region north of the capital, which is home to thousands of immigrants and their French-born children.