PARIS (Reuters) - Hundreds of people were arrested in France overnight in clashes between police and protesters angry over conservative Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory in Sunday’s presidential election, police said.
Official figures released on Monday said demonstrators set fire to 730 cars and injured 78 policemen across France, with 592 people arrested in the violent protests against the tough-talking former interior minister.
The tally was revised sharply upwards after an initial report appeared to downplay the clashes and was at odds with local police figures and eyewitness reports, which suggested widespread troubles in numerous French cities.
Sarkozy made his name as a law-and-order hardliner who also tightened France’s immigration laws, making him a hate figure for the left. Slogans spray-painted on the streets of Paris overnight included “Sarkozy fascist”.
Leftist sympathizers clashed with police in and around Paris’s Place de la Bastille after Sarkozy’s victory against Socialist Segolene Royal and security forces fired tear gas and at least one burst of water cannon to disperse the crowd.
Youths went on the rampage in adjoining streets, smashing phone cabins and shop windows.
“Everyone got hit,” said Sophie Wolkowitch, whose pharmacy suffered 14,000 euros ($19,000) of damage.
Similar attacks were reported in the southeastern city of Lyon and the southern city of Toulouse. Bus shelters were smashed in the northern city of Lille and a school was set on fire in the Paris suburb of Evry.
In the northern department clustered around Lille, about 100 cars were torched, the fire brigade said.
In Nantes, 26 people were held for questioning and six police were slightly injured after 1,000 people joined a march against Sarkozy in the western city, said Yves Monard, head of public security of the Loire-Atlantique department.
Cars and shop windows were also damaged in Nantes while to the northwest, in Caen, four police were hurt and an attempt was made to set fire to the local office of Sarkozy’s UMP party.
Sarkozy is a particularly controversial figure in France’s poor, multi-ethnic suburbs, which were the epicenter of three weeks of rioting in 2005.
At the time Sarkozy branded the troublemakers as scum and Royal said last week that a victory by her opponent would provoke violence in French suburbs.
However, an internal police memo obtained by Reuters said there was no large-scale trouble there.
“The second round of the presidential election did not generate any large demonstrations of urban violence in sensitive neighborhoods,” said the memo.
It added that the level of violence was above that usually seen on July 14 Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, “but below that of New Year’s celebrations”.
Police say on an average just over 100 cars are set ablaze in France each night.