PARIS: As government workers pick up the mess made by protesters in the national Capital, French President Emmanuel Macron flew in from the G20 summit in Argentina, and led a crisis meeting and met with the Prime Minister, Interior Minister and top service officials at the presidential palace in Paris. He said no cause justifies violence, in reference to the massive protests that left 263 people injured and caused massive destruction. Paris police said 412 people were arrested on Saturday when the city saw one of its worst clashes in history. 378 are currently still in custody.
The “yellow vest” anti-government protests have swept through France in the last fortnight. What began as unrest mostly in the provinces over a tax on diesel fuel has three weeks later now become a full-blown uprising against Macron. The protesters, who wear high-visibility roadside safety vests, convey the anger they feel toward the president and what they perceive as his out-of-touch, monarchical leadership. In a separate incident, a motorway pay booth was set on fire by arsonists in southern France near the city of Narbonne. A prosecutor said five people were taken into custody.
Before he leaving from home, Macron addressed a news conference in Buenos Aires, saying, “I will never accept violence. No cause justifies that authorities are attacked, that businesses are plundered, that passers-by or journalists are threatened or that the Arc du Triomphe is defiled.” Smashed shop windows, broken class and burned-out vehicles stood testament to the violence around monumental areas like the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre, Opera and Place Vendome. Macron stands firm on ground refusing to roll back taxes on fuel, stating they are needed to fund the country's transition to a low emission economy. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner attributed the violence to “specialists in sowing conflict, specialists in destruction”.
The protests have been compared to the student uprisings of 1968, after which President Charles de Gaulle was forced to concede to certain demands. “This could be fatal for Macron’s agenda,” said François Heisbourg, a political analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Paris.
On Sunday, Macron toured the graffiti-scrawled monuments of the capital and the damage along some of the richest shopping streets in Europe. He had previously insisted that, unlike past French governments, he will not back down in the face of popular resistance to reforms like a loosening of labor laws; a stronger stand than many other western European countries have taken.
Yellow vests a symbol of the mass
Officers fired tear gas and used water cannon to tamp down the violence as protesters torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with spray paint. Paris police Prefect Michel Delpuech said some officers described encountering “unprecedented” violence, including protesters using hammers, gardening tools, bolts, aerosol cans as well as rocks in physical confrontations. Radical far-right and far-left activists are known to be involved in the riots, along with a “great number” of protesters wearing yellow jackets, he said. The fluorescent jackets, worn by French motorists, have now become an symbol of a grass-roots citizens' movement protesting not only fuel taxes, but also the President.