France's government faces mounting pressure after eight nights of rioting in poor suburbs of Paris with large North African populations. Thursday, the unrest spread to 20 towns. The rioters ignored an appeal for calm from French President Jacques Chirac, whose government is working to fend off a political crisis amid criticism that it has ignored problems among North African, and other predominately Muslim immigrants.
Over several nights, the rioters threw rocks and fired shots that missed police, as raging youths torched cars and buses. A man from Sri Lanka, living in Paris, says he saw a school on fire.
"Then me and my niece we opened the window and we saw the school was burning," said Anton Collins.
Riot police fired rubber bullets at advancing gangs of youths.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who met with top cabinet ministers about the crisis, says the government will not give in to the rioters.
The rioting began in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois following the accidental electrocution of two teenagers of North African descent, who hid in a power station because they thought police were chasing them. The president of a local mosque, Abderrahmane Bouhout, says the outburst of violence is connected to extreme poverty in the suburbs.
"In Clichy, there are more than 25 percent of youth who are under 25 years old. They have no work, no activities, so put yourself in their place. There is pressure that inflates and inflates and inflates and all you need is one incident like the two youths who died, that's the detonator," he said.
On the streets of Paris, people recognize the roots of the problem. Louis Cayeux, says the people doing the rioting must have something more to live for. "Therefore, today we must stop the violence, but also give projects to the youths of the suburbs, like those all over the world, with no hope, unemployment and misery," he said.
Another resident, Valerie Ley, says the people must know they have a future. "The first solution is to find ways to keep them busy. Give them education, a job, that would be a good start," she said.
Those are things many second and third generation French have been quietly asking for, for years--without success.