Francois Baroin, the new interior minister, told Europe-1 radio that a routine check "got out of hand and transformed into urban guerrilla warfare, into unacceptable, intolerable violence".

Violent memories

Baroin was in only his second day of the job after succeeding Nicolas Sarkozy, who has stepped down to concentrate on his presidential campaign.

The confrontation evoked memories of nationwide riots in the autumn of 2005 that were begun by disaffected youths in some of Paris's poorer northern suburbs.

Trains from the Gare du Nord ply routes to some of those suburbs.

Sarkozy adopted a tough line on the violence in 2005 and has often been accused by his critics of exploiting fears over security to help his political career.

Security and immigration have been a central theme of this year's presidential election campaign before the first round of voting on April 22.