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Sarkozy is elected French president

Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president of France on Sunday, defeating Socialist Segolene Royal by a comfortable margin, TF1 television reported. Overnight anti-Sarkozy demonstrations turn violent.

According to figures provided by the Interior Ministry, with more than 61% of the votes counted, the 52-year-old Sarkozy had received 53.53% of the vote, compared to 46.47% for Royal. Sarkozy's five-year term begins on May 16, when he takes over from Jacques Chirac, who ruled France for 12 years. In a victory statement, Sarkozy said he felt „an immense and sincere and profound emotion” at being elected president. „I love France as one loves a dear being,” Sarkozy told his jubilant supporters. „Now I will give back to France what France has given me.” After expressing his „respect” for his defeated opponent, Sarkozy addressed himself to the European Union, Africa and the United States. He urged Africans to work with him to develop a common immigration policy for France and „an ambitious policy of sustainable development.” He told Americans that they could „count on France's friendship,” but noted that „a great country like the United States has the duty not to stand in the way of the fight against global warming, but to lead the way.”

The son of a Hungarian immigrant, Sarkozy vowed during the campaign to reduce France's bloated civil service ranks by at least half, to place restrictions on strikes and to impose a ceiling of 50% on personal income taxes. He has also said his administration would put an end to the influence of France's May 1968 generation, which he said was responsible for the decline of morality and authority in France. In a brief concession speech in which she did not mention Sarkozy by name, Royal said she „hoped the next president of the Republic will fulfil his mission at the service of the French people.” She also said that because of her campaign „something has arisen that will not stop,” and that she would continue to play a leading role in French politics.

Because the tough-talking Sarkozy had angered minority youths living in France's rundown suburban ghettoes, police were deployed throughout the country in numbers corresponding to a New Year's Eve or an important World Cup match, police sources said. In 2005, Sarkozy referred to the youths living in the rundown housing estates outside large cities as „scum” and vowed to mop up the areas with a high-powered industrial cleaning machine. In Paris and three suburban regions around the capital alone, some 3,000 police officers were deployed on Sunday to prevent violence. After an intense, polarizing campaign, the French went to the polling stations in large numbers on Sunday.

According to preliminary estimates by the TNS-Sofres institute, some 85.5% of France's 44.5 million registered voters cast their ballots, one of the highest rates of participation in any postwar French presidential election. The 53-year-old Royal, a former environment and education minister, would have become the first woman president of France if she had been elected. She had promised to enact a law to protect battered women, raise the minimum wage and maintain the number of civil servants, but to move them from public sectors where they are not needed, such as customs services, to areas where they are sorely lacking, such as clinics and hospitals. However, she ran a poor campaign and never managed to convince the French that she had the stature to be president

Dozens of cars and rubbish containers were set on fire overnight during protests against Nicolas Sarkozy's win Sunday in France's presidential elections, and police fired tear gas and clashed with young people in Bastille Square in Paris. As about 30,000 Sarkozy supporters rallied in Paris' Place de la Concorde, thousands of his critics demonstrated in Paris, the Paris suburbs, Nancy, Lyon, Metz, Bordeaux, Mulhouse, Nantes, Lille, Toulouse and Marseille. Shop windows were also shattered in the protests, but wider spread rioting, which had been expected, did not materialize. However, police spoke of a tense atmosphere in Paris' suburbs, where three weeks of riots broke out in late 2005 among ethnic minority communities. (eux.tv.)