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Cars torched over "calm" French New Year

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PARIS (Reuters) - Vandals torched 372 cars as France celebrated the New Year, down on the figure last year after a night the police described as “relatively calm”.

Cars are burned fairly regularly in France and the image of vehicles in flames in poor suburbs became symbolic of riots in 2005 when angry youths set fire to thousands of cars.

There is usually an increase in the number of cars torched on New Year’s Eve compared to other days of the year.

“The night was relatively calm, without notable incident, there were very few direct clashes with the security forces,” said a spokesman for the national police.

At 12:00 a.m. EST, the Interior Ministry said 372 vehicles had been burned -- 144 in the Paris region and 228 in the rest of France. That was down from 397 last New Year’s Eve.

At the height of the 2005 riots as many as 1,400 cars were attacked in overnight violence. In protests over President Nicolas Sarkozy election last May, demonstrators set fire to 730 vehicles.

Police had stepped up their presence on French streets in anticipation of the year-end celebrations and the sale of petrol in cans was banned in some places.

Reporting by Anna Willard; Editing by Keith Weir