French firemen inspect damage inside a leisure centre after overnight clashes where gangs of youths set cars, bins and a school ablaze in Amiens, Reuters
Violent clashes between a group of youths and French security services caused widespread damage and injured 16 police officers in Amiens.

Violent clashes between youths and French security services in Amiens left 16 policemen injured.

As the confrontation escalated, a primary school was severely damaged by fire and a sports centre was destroyed in Amiens' deprived northern quarter, officials said.

One hundred local youths clashed with 150 policemen, throwing buckshot, fireworks and other projectiles.

Police retaliated with teargas and rubber bullets while a helicopter was deployed overhead.

Officials said other smaller scales clashes had taken place in previous days after police arrested a man for dangerous driving.

Residents attending a wake for a local 20-year-old who had died in a motorbike accident described the police action as insensitive.

Gilles Demailly, the mayor of Amiens, said he had encountered a "scene of desolation" in the area.

"There have been regular incidents here but it has been years since we've known a night as violent as this with so much damage done," he said.

Officials blamed the escalation of violence on mounting social tensions and a lack of funding.

Demailly, a member of the ruling Socialist Party, added: "For months I've been asking for the means [to alleviate the neighbourhood's problems] because tension has been mounting here."

The incident will put further pressure on the government of Francois Hollande to tackle growing socio-economic tensions in the most deprived areas.

The minister of the interior, Manuel Valls, announced "priority security zones", including Amiens' northern quarter, would be established across the country from September.

Youths groups and social activists said the initiative would focus more on tougher policing rather than tackling unemployment or improving dialogue between the two sides.