MARSEILLE, France – France's prime minister called Monday for broader penalties against youths involved in violence like the brutal firebombing of a bus that severely injured a woman passenger.
Dominique de Villepin called for witnesses to step forward following the attack Saturday in southern Marseille, the first of two weekend attacks by youths against public transportation in France.
The two attacks followed a pattern of targeting city buses in a return to urban violence a year after riots gripped France's troubled neighborhoods, where many immigrants from former colonies in Africa and Muslim North Africa and their French-born children live.
Villepin, who held an emergency meeting on security and public transport Monday, said witnesses of the bus attack would be guaranteed anonymity if they come forward.
"We have all been profoundly shocked" by this "barbaric crime," Villepin said. He announced plans to broaden a new anti-crime law with an amendment to punish "all those who are involved in and encourage" — not just those who are directly responsible for the violence.
In the Marseille attack on Saturday, youths tossed a bottle of flammable liquid into the bus, seriously burning a 26-year-old French woman of Senegalese origin.
Mama Galledou, a student, was burned over nearly 70 percent of her body and was fighting for her life in an artificial coma, said doctors at the burn unit at Marseille's Conception Hospital.
On Sunday, youths in southeastern Grenoble threw stones from an overhead bridge onto a tramway, breaking the windshield, police said. The driver was hospitalized to remove glass splinters from his eyes.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said there was "no risk of contagion" with attacks kindling others as happened last year. Despite the Marseille attack, "things are rather calm," he said.
Sarkozy said on Europe-1 radio that an investigation into the Marseille attack was advancing and that minors were involved.
In the bus burning in Marseille — a city largely spared of the violence last year — the attackers did not empty the bus first before setting it ablaze.
Two buses were burned Friday night — when France marked a year since the start of last year's violence — in the Paris suburb of Le Blanc Mesnil. In those and earlier cases, the attackers first emptied the buses of passengers.
Three weeks of riots, car burnings and vandalism across France erupted Oct. 27, 2005. Many immigrants and their French-born children who live in troubled suburbs face discrimination in the workplace and double-digit rates of unemployment — far above the national average.