Rioting youths shot at police and firefighters Thursday after burning car dealerships and public buses and hurling rocks at commuter trains. France’s government faced growing pressure to curb the violence, fueled by anger over poor conditions in suburban Paris housing projects.
Rampaging for an eighth day, youths ignored an appeal for calm from French President Jacques Chirac, whose government worked feverishly to fend off a political crisis amid criticism that it has ignored problems in suburbs heavily populated by first- and second-generation North African and Muslim immigrants.
The riots started last Thursday after the electrocution deaths of two teenagers hiding in a power station from police they believed were chasing them in the northeastern suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.
By Wednesday night, violence had spread to at least 20 Paris-region towns, said Jean-Francois Cordet, the top government official for the Seine-Saint-Denis region north of Paris where the violence has been concentrated. He said youths in the region fired four shots at riot police and firefighters but caused no injuries.
Nine people were injured in Seine-Saint-Denis and 315 cars burned across the Paris area, officials said. In the tough northeastern suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, youth gangs set fire to a Renault car dealership and burned at least a dozen cars, a supermarket and a local gymnasium.
Traffic was halted Thursday morning on a suburban commuter line linking Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport after stone-throwing rioters attacked two trains overnight at the Le Blanc-Mesnil station. They forced a conductor from one train and broke windows, the SNCF rail authority said. A passenger was lightly injured by broken glass.
The violence also cast doubt on the success of France’s model of seeking to integrate its large immigrant community—its Muslim population, at an estimated 5 million, is Western Europe’s largest—by playing down differences between ethnic groups. Rather than feeling embraced as full and equal citizens, immigrants and their French-born children complain of police harassment and of being refused jobs, housing and opportunities.