At least 16 police men have been wounded in overnight clashes after dozens of young people took to the streets of northern France to protest the arrest of a man for dangerous driving.

Monday night's clashes, between 100 local youth and up to 150 police, in a troubled area of the northern city of Amiens also left a primary school severely damaged by fire and a sports centre completely destroyed, local officials said on Tuesday.

"The confrontations were very, very violent," Gilles Dumailly, Amiens mayor, told the French television network BFM.

Police in Amiens said the riot began around 9pm on Monday, ending around 4am after federal reinforcements arrived.

Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the unrest after suffering injuries caused by buckshot, fireworks and other projectiles thrown by rioters.

The violence followed lower-scale clashes 24 hours earlier which were triggered by the arrest of a man for dangerous driving.

The arrest was seen as insensitive as it came as many residents of the neighbourhood were attending a wake for a local 20-year-old who had died in a motorbike accident.

The Socialist mayor of Amiens, said he had encountered a "scene of desolation" in the northern quarter of a city that is well known for its university and its 13th century Gothic cathedral.

"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 down," Demailly told AFP news agency.

Earlier this month, the district in Amiens was among 15 areas declared the most troubled in France, and the government pledged more security and more money.

Source: Agencies