Sarkozy Victory Sets Off Limited Riots
Tuesday, May 8, 2007; 5:34 PM
PARIS -- The leader of France's defeated Socialists appealed for calm Tuesday after post-election violence left cars burned and store windows smashed.
While the unrest has been relatively minor, it sent a message to Nicolas Sarkozy: He may have won the presidency, but he hasn't won over the many French who consider him _ and his free-market reforms and tough line on crime and immigration _ frighteningly brutal.
Sarkozy, who beat Socialist Segolene Royal in a runoff Sunday, is a divisive figure whose tough language and crackdowns on crime and immigration have angered many on the left _ and in the immigrant-heavy suburban housing projects that erupted in riots in 2005.
Tuesday night, the third after the election, appeared calmer than the previous nights, with only a few reports of violence. Vandals set fire to a center belonging to Sarkozy's UMP party in the central town of Villeurbanne, causing minor damage, said local official Xavier de Furst.
A scuffle with riot police was also reported in the Paris suburb of Grigny. Police patrolled the Place de la Bastille in Paris, where hundreds of people had gathered on previous nights, breaking windows in shops and starting street fires.
Some 730 cars were burned nationwide Sunday night and 592 people were arrested. The following night, 373 vehicles were torched and 160 people were taken in for questioning across France, police said.
"To all those who can hear me, I ask them to immediately stop all this behavior," Socialist Party chief Francois Hollande said Tuesday on RTL radio.
"We are in a republic, where universal suffrage is the only law we know. There can be disappointment, there can be anger, there can be frustration. But the only way to react is to take up your ballots, not other weapons," he said.
Royal had warned of renewed violence in case of a Sarkozy victory, and had sought to make the campaign a referendum on Sarkozy's polarizing persona.
But voters favored Sarkozy anyway, handing him a mandate for reforms that include tax cuts and new labor rules making it easier to hire and fire to revive the sluggish economy. He faces a big challenge in carrying this out in a country that cherishes its generous social safety net.
The troublemakers this week have been mostly white, whereas the 2005 riots involved many black and Arab youth angry over discrimination and alienation from mainstream society. This week's protesters resembled some of the young people who helped bring down a minor labor reform last year through mass demonstrations.
Sarkozy's reforms promise to be tougher, and are certain to meet similar street protests.