IMAGE: Nicolas Sarkozy a day after triumph
Eric Gaillard  /  Reuters
Nicolas Sarkozy, France's newly-elected president, leaves the Fouquet's Hotel in Paris on Monday.
updated 5/7/2007 11:54:16 AM ET 2007-05-07T15:54:16

French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy plans to waste no time making France a friendlier place for business — and a less inviting place for criminals and would-be immigrants — but first he must win control of parliament in new elections next month.

Sarkozy, a U.S.-friendly conservative and an immigrant’s son, defeated Socialist Segolene Royal by 53 percent to 47 percent with about 85 percent voter turnout Sunday.

The win gave Sarkozy a strong mandate for his vision of France’s future: He wants to free up labor markets, calls France’s 35-hour work week absurd and plans tougher measures on crime and immigration.

“The people of France have chosen change,” Sarkozy told cheering supporters in a victory speech that sketched out a stronger global role for France and renewed partnership with the United States.

U.S. welcomes new leader
The Bush administration on Monday welcomed Sarkozy’s election as an opportunity to strengthen relations with France.

“We certainly look forward to cooperation with the French,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said Monday. “And we know that there are going to be areas of disagreement. But on the other hand, there are certainly real opportunities to work together on a broad range of issues.”

Exit polls offered some surprises. Some 46 percent of blue-collar workers — traditionally leftist voters — chose Sarkozy, according to an Ipsos/Dell poll. Forty-four percent of people of modest means voted for him, as did 32 percent of people who usually vote for the Greens and 14 percent who normally support the far-left. The poll surveyed 3,609 voters and has a margin of error of about 2 percent. Video: At the polls

A headline Monday in Les Echos newspaper, a financial daily, read: “President Sarkozy: a wide majority for reforming the country in depth.” In Le Figaro newspaper, Jean d’Ormesson wrote: “Fasten your seatbelts. This will be quite a ride.”

Sarkozy’s is certain to face resistance from powerful unions to his plans to make the French work more and make it easier for companies to hire and fire.

Over the next few days, Sarkozy “will retire to somewhere in France to unwind a little ... and to start organizing and preparing his teams,” said Francois Fillon, an adviser often cited as the leading candidate for prime minister.

With his family, Sarkozy left his Paris hotel Monday — dressed casually in jeans — en route to his retreat. The location was not revealed.

Takeover on May 16
The new president, 52, plans to take over power from outgoing 74-year-old leader Jacques Chirac on May 16. Fillon said Sarkozy’s new government would be installed May 19 or 20.

The election left little time for celebrating: Legislative elections are slated for June 10 and 17, and Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party needs a majority to keep his mandate for reforms. A win by the left would bring an awkward power-sharing with a leftist prime minister, which would put a stop to his plans.

Sarkozy has drawn up a whirlwind agenda for his first 100 days in office and plans to put big reforms before parliament at an extraordinary session in July. One would make overtime pay tax-free to encourage people to work more. Another would put in place tougher sentencing for repeat offenders, and a third would toughen the criteria for immigrants trying to bring their families to France.

Video: Looking ahead

On election night, scattered violence was reported across France. Police reported that 270 people were taken in for questioning and that 367 parked vehicles had been torched. On a typical night in France, about 100 cars are burned.

There had been fears that the impoverished suburban housing projects, home to Arab and African immigrants and their French-born children, would erupt again at the victory of a man who once labeled young delinquents “scum.” That blunt comment, and Sarkozy’s tough anti-crime tactics as interior minister, helped fuel riots that raged for three weeks in housing projects in 2005.

Late Sunday, small bands of youths hurled stones and other objects at police at the Place de la Bastille in Paris, across town from a giant street party celebrating Sarkozy’s win. Some youths bared their backsides at riot officers, and police fired volleys of tear gas. Other fights with the police broke out in Toulouse, Lyon, Rennes and Nantes, police said. Two police unions said firebombs targeted schools and recreation centers in the Essonne region just south of Paris.

Image: Protests in Paris
Michel Spingler  /  AP
Youths burn a motorbike on the Place de la Bastille in Paris on Sunday night, after conservative Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential election victory.

In Sarkozy’s victory speech, he reached out to all those he has alienated in the past, promising to be president “of all the French, without exception.”

“I want to tell them that tonight, this is not the victory of one France over another,” said Sarkozy, who is often portrayed as the enemy of youths in the housing projects.

Among the electoral surprises was that Sarkozy took 43 percent in the Seine-Saint-Denis region north of Paris, an area with a large immigrant population and high unemployment that was the epicenter of the 2005 rioting.

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