Fri, Oct 27, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Bus attacks usher in first anniversary of Paris suburban riots

AGENCIES , PARIS

Association for Liberty Equality Fraternity Together United members march along a street in Paris to present a collection of 20,000 complaints to lawmakers on Wednesday. Several hundred people, largely of North African and African descent, staged the protest ahead of the first anniversary of last year's suburban riots today.

PHOTO: AP

A group of armed attackers stormed a bus outside Paris early yesterday, forcing the passengers off and setting fire to the vehicle, the transport authority said.

It was one of at least three buses targeted in the previous 24 hours, attacks that raised the specter of three weeks of fiery violence that rocked the country last year. No injuries were reported in any of the latest incidents.

The 10 attackers -- five of whom were armed with handguns -- invaded the bus around 1am in the town of Montreuil and forced off the passengers, the RATP transport authority said. They then drove off and set the bus on fire.

The bus driver was treated for shock, the RATP said.

Meanwhile, youths from the tough French neighborhoods which suffered the country's worst riots in 40 years said on Wednesday the government must create jobs, raise wages and stamp out discrimination to improve their lives.

Youngsters from the banlieues -- the high-rise estates outside French cities which exploded in a three-week orgy of violence last November -- have toured the country since to interview some 20,000 people and compile a "book of grievances" for President Jacques Chirac's government.

Members of the Association for Liberty Equality Fraternity Together United (ACLEFEU) presented their findings on Wednesday as concerns grew that a wave of attacks on police in the past few weeks were a precursor to more gasoline bombings, car burnings and nightly riots on the outskirts of major cities.

Police say officers are facing constant attacks that amount to urban "guerilla warfare."

ACLEFEU's proposals include calls for money to help job seekers, quotas to force firms to employ more young people, a minimum wage rise and harsher penalties for firms with discriminatory practices.

"Unemployment, housing and discrimination are the main concerns," said ACLEFEU's Samir Mihi before handing over the book to parliamentary representatives. "The government should listen to what its citizens have to say."

Joblessness in the banlieues -- many of whose residents include immigrants and descendants of immigrants from northern and western Africa -- is as high as 40 percent.

That figure is four times the national average for unemployment and many youths say anger about joblessness and poverty were the root causes of last year's riots.

Law and order is a campaign issue ahead of next year's presidential election, with both conservative frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy and his likely Socialist rival Segolene Royal defending tough policies to prevent crime.

Hundreds of police held a demonstration of their own on Wednesday, protesting at the dangerous conditions they face in the suburbs.

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