France has chosen a conservative candidate as its next president. Preliminary results based on exit polls showed Nicolas Sarkozy was elected with 53 per cent of the vote. That gave him a comfortable lead over his opponent, Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal. Shortly after results were announced riot police have broken up demonstrations in Paris and Lyon against Sarkozy's election. Anita Elash reports for VOA from Paris.
With most of the ballots counted, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is the head of France's main conservative party, UMP, scored just over 53 percent of the vote, compared with a little over 46 percent for Royal.
Sarkozy's win was no surprise, but when it was announced supporters at his headquarters erupted into cheers, shouting "Nicolas President" and "bravo." The excitement spilled onto the street where dozens of journalists on motorcycles followed Sarkozy as he drove to a theater to make his acceptance speech.
He told his supporters that French voters had chosen to break with the ideas and habits of the past.
His supporters broke into cheers and applause again as he promised to emphasize values of work, authority, respect, merit and national identity.
Sarkozy said he would work for all of France. He also offered his support to the United States, but said real friends understand they can disagree with each other.
The second round of the presidential ballot pitted candidates on the right and left sides of the political spectrum. Sarkozy called for tough economic reforms that would revitalize the ailing French economy. His opponent, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal proposed left-wing economic policies and "reforms without brutality."
The son of Hungarian immigrants, Sarkozy is the first French president of foreign origin to be elected by universal suffrage. At age 52, he is also the first president of the Fifth French Republic who has no living memory of World War II.
The ministry of the interior reported some 86 percent of the 45 million registered voters turned out at the polls.