Local officials said the eight-hour long confrontation at the Gare du Nord was sparked when police arrested a 33-year old man who attacked staff who had asked him to show his ticket. Youths at the station, which is a hub for trains to suburbs north of Paris, said police had manhandled the suspect and broken his hand. Hundreds of youths threw flower pots and bottles at police, shouting "Sarkozy hypocrite." Police used tear-gas to disperse the youths. Thirteen people were arrested. Sarkozy confirmed his status as a law-and-order hardliner in riots that hit the poor suburbs around Paris and other French cities in 2005, and the Socialists were quick to blame him for the climate of hostility between youths and police officers. Delphine Batho, a Socialist official responsible for security, said Sarkozy was to blame for the difficulties police encountered when making arrests. "On the one hand, there are hardcore offenders who want to control their territory. Secondly, there are the after-effects of the provocative habits and language of the interior minister, which has worsened the tensions," she told Le Parisien daily.
Sarkozy, who stepped down as interior minister on Monday to focus on his campaign, rejected the criticism. "Shall we say it's the fault of police when someone starts a fight when they are asked for their ticket?" he said. "I am not the interior minister. And I don't know what happened in detail. But the principal is that you cannot declare someone right who wants to pass without ticket and who beats a police officer," he told France Info radio. The issues of security and immigration have taken centre stage in past days as the April 22 first round in presidential elections approaches. In an interview with Liberation daily which did not touch directly on the clashes, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal said Sarkozy had failed to resolve the crisis in Paris's poor suburban neighborhoods after the 2005 riots. "There is a deep break in confidence between the youths of these neighborhoods and him," she said. "It's hard to incarnate the unity of the nation if some parts of the territory are inaccessible." Youths angry about poverty and discrimination torched thousands of cars in November 2005 in the ethnically-diverse suburbs surrounding French cities, where unemployment often is 4 to 5 times the national average.