Armed Youths Set Bus on Fire Ahead of Anniversary of 2005 Paris Riots

A group of armed attackers stormed a bus outside Paris early Thursday, 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 last 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 anniversary of the start of the 2005 riots is Friday, and police have been girding for new unrest this week. The latest attacks have threatened bus service in several neighborhoods around Paris, as drivers refuse to enter some areas after dark.

Last year's riots raged through rundown housing projects in suburbs nationwide, springing in part from anger over entrenched discrimination against immigrants and their French-born children, many of them Muslims from former French colonies in Africa. Despite an influx of funds and promises, disenchantment still thrives in those communities.

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In Thursday's violence, the 10 attackers — five of whom were armed with handguns — invaded the bus around 1 a.m. (2300 GMT Wednesday) 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. The handguns were unusual — last year's rioters were armed primarily with crowbars, stones, sticks or gasoline bombs.

Late Wednesday, three attackers forced passengers off another bus in Athis-Mons south of Paris and tossed a Molotov cocktail inside, police officials said. The driver managed to put out the fire.

In yet another attack, between six and 10 youths herded passengers off a bus in the western suburb of Nanterre and set it alight. Regional authorities had expressed surprise at the attack, since the bus line, which passes near Paris' financial district, La Defense, was not considered a high-risk area.

Dominque Planchon, a spokesman for SGP police union, drew a direct connection between the attack and last year's rioting.

"We can imagine it has to do with the one year anniversary of 2005 and naturally my colleagues fear the worst for 2006," Planchon told Associated Press Television News.

The transit authority in the Essonne region south of Paris on Wednesday suspended nighttime bus service for security reasons following "multiple incidents," including a tear gas bomb.

Stephane Beaudet, president of the transit authority, told France Info radio that the "risk is real for drivers and passengers."

France's inability to better integrate minorities and recent violence against police are becoming major political issues as the campaign heats up for next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.

The three weeks of riots were sparked by the deaths on Oct. 27, 2005 of two young boys of African descent who were electrocuted in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois, northeast of Paris, while hiding from police.

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