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French Immigrants Caught Between Rioters, Police

Farah, an 8-year-old budding gymnast, cried when she saw the gutted wreckage of her gym crackling with flames and spewing smoke, destroyed in the latest nighttime rampage by Muslim youths in suburban Paris.

She, her father and hundreds of other residents poured into the streets by the Les Tilleuls (search) housing complex in the Seine-Saint-Denis (search) region Wednesday night as firefighters and police struggled to keep order during a seventh night of riots northeast of the capital.

"It is saddening," said Farah's father, Mohammed Fawzi Kaci, 47, proudly showing a picture on his mobile phone of his shy daughter wearing tights and performing a split. "Where is she going to practice now?"

A kindergarten, a gymnasium, government offices and hundreds of cars have been torched in the past week by youths in largely immigrant areas who began rioting after two of their peers were electrocuted at a power substation while hiding from police they feared were chasing them.

As violence raged again Wednesday night, families leaned off balconies or peered through curtains to snap photographs of trucks spilling shield-carrying riot police into the streets between concrete housing towers.

Many residents said they were sympathetic to the anger of young French citizens of largely sub-Saharan and North African descent, but could not understand why rioters were targeting cars and buildings in their already impoverished areas.

"They are stupid. They are destroying everything," said an 18-year-old who gave her name only as Mariam. "They should do that in southwest Paris or at the National Assembly — not here. People here are suffering already."

Christophe Berthossi (search), head of the Immigration and Citizenship Program at the French Institute of International Relations think tank, said France has ignored suburban neglect and discrimination for too long.

"This is an area where the unemployment rate is 20 percentage points higher than the national average," he said. "These are youths who want to integrate but do not have equal access.

"They are being sent the idea that they are not French, when they are," he said.

Suburban residents said calming the violence will take more than police force, and they accused Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (search) of fueling tempers by calling troublemakers "scum."

"Sarkozy's language has added oil to the fire. He should really weigh his words," said Kaci, who immigrated from Algeria. "I'm proud to live in France, but this France disappoints me."