CAULNAY-SOUS-BOIS, France – France's government faced mounting pressure Thursday as suburban unrest spread, with youths setting fire to a car dealership and public buses in battles with riot police, who reportedly came under gunfire.
Youths rampaged for a seventh straight night, undeterred by the presence of armed riot police. Acts ranging from clashing with police to torching vehicles were reported in at least 10 Paris (search)-region towns.
The riots have highlighted the division between France's big cities and their poor suburbs and frustrations simmering in housing projects to the north and northeast of Paris, heavily populated by North African and Muslim immigrants and their French-born children who struggle with high unemployment, crime and poverty.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin (search) called a series of emergency meetings with government officials throughout the day Thursday, including one with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been accused of inflaming the crisis with his tough talk and police tactics. Sarkozy has called troublemakers "scum" and vowed to "clean out" troubled suburbs.
Minister of Social Cohesion Jean-Louis Borloo said the government had to react "firmly" but added that France must also acknowledge its failure to have dealt with anger simmering in poor suburbs for decades.
"We cannot hide the truth: that for 30 years we have not done enough," he told France-2 (search) television.
In the tough northeastern suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, gangs of youths torched a Renault car dealership late Wednesday and incinerated at least a dozen cars, a supermarket and a local gymnasium.
In nearby La Courneuve, police said two live bullets were fired at them, France-Info radio reported. No officers were injured.
Bands of youths forced a team of France-2 television reporters out of their car in the suburb of Le Blanc Mesnil, then flipped the vehicle and set it on fire.
The unrest has laid bare France's failure to fully integrate its millions of immigrants, many of whom are trapped in the poverty and grinding unemployment of low-cost, sometimes decrepit, suburban housing projects sometimes controlled by gangs dealing drugs and stolen goods — not police.
The rioting began Oct. 27 in the northeastern suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois after the accidental deaths of the two teenagers electrocuted when they hid in a power substation because they thought police were chasing them. Officials have said police were not pursuing the boys.