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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2007, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Sarkozy drifts into controversy
The yacht Paloma
Mr Sarkozy is holidaying aboard the yacht of a billionaire friend
French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy has sailed into a political storm by holidaying on a luxury yacht straight after his election triumph on Sunday.

The opposition Socialist Party and media across the political spectrum say the cruise is too ostentatious.

A defiant Mr Sarkozy said he would not apologise for the break and it should not be cause for controversy.

The attacks came as rioters torched cars in a third night of protests against Mr Sarkozy's victory.

Monastic retreat?

Mr Sarkozy is on a three-day cruise in Malta with his wife Cecilia and son Louis, 10, to celebrate his victory and relax before officially taking over from Jacques Chirac on 16 May.

Former Socialist Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou called the holiday "ostentatious" and "scandalous".

I do not intend to hide, I do not intend to lie, I do not intend to apologise
Nicolas Sarkozy

"All this money when he pretends to be the... president of all French [people]," she said on French TV station iTele.

The British-registered 60m (200-foot) yacht Paloma belongs to a friend of Mr Sarkozy, French billionaire tycoon Vincent Bollore, and costs up to 200,000 euros ($270,000) to rent for a week.

Mr Sarkozy was originally said to be taking his retreat on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, and the La Republique du Centre newspaper said the shift from a "monastic retreat... alters the image of Nicolas Sarkozy as an appealing, humble leader that was projected on Sunday night".

Even the conservative Le Figaro expressed dismay, saying the cruise caused "concern among a number of friends of Nicolas Sarkozy".

In response to the gathering storm, Mr Sarkozy told Europe 1 radio he was relaxing now so that he could take office "in the calmest possible frame of mind".

"I am going to be taking two and a half days. I don't think anyone can object to this," he said.

Mr Sarkozy insisted that the cruise would not cost the French people a cent.

"I do not intend to hide, I do not intend to lie, I do not intend to apologise," he said.

Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, from Mr Sarkozy's UMP party, told French radio that after five difficult years in government, Mr Sarkozy "owed three days of exceptional happiness to his family before five years of labour to the exclusive service of the French people".

Cars ablaze

Meanwhile, rioters clashed with police and burned cars for a third night in protest against Mr Sarkozy's victory in the second round of the presidential election.

Some 200 cars were set alight and 80 people arrested on Wednesday.

Anti-Sarkozy protests in Lyon
Protesters have rallied for three days against Mr Sarkozy's victory

But this figure was down on the 365 vehicles torched on Monday and 730 burnt on Sunday, said French Interior Minister Francois Baroin.

In Paris, about 150 protesters shouting "Sarko, fascist!" clashed with police in the Bastille district. In the suburbs, youths set fire to a nursery school and torched cars in a garage.

In Lyon, some 200 demonstrators clashed with police, while UMP party offices were set ablaze in the nearby town of Villeurbanne.

Several cars were also burnt in the suburbs of Toulouse on Tuesday, and a Renault car showroom was set alight during clashes with police, fire services said.

Mr Sarkozy is due to return to France on Wednesday night.

One of his first key tests as president will be nationwide parliamentary elections in June.

His UMP party must win a majority in the National Assembly to ensure Mr Sarkozy can pass his planned reforms.

How Nicolas Sarkozy wants to govern France

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