The French president, Emmanuel Macron, will hold an emergency meeting of senior ministers on Sunday after central Paris saw its worst unrest in a decade on Saturday. Thousands of masked protesters fought running battles with police, set fire to cars, banks and houses and burned makeshift barricades on the edges of demonstrations against fuel tax rises.
On Sunday morning, Paris authorities hired extra trucks to begin removing the carcasses of burnt cars on from the scorched pavements of some of Paris’s most expensive streets, amid graffiti calling for Macron to resign.
Piles of teargas canisters littered broken pavements in front of rows of shattered shopfronts and smashed windows, as TV channels showed non-stop footage of central Paris in flames during Saturday’s events..
The government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux did not rule out imposing a state of emergency – which two police unions have called for. The president, prime minister and interior minister said they would discuss all available options.
More than 400 people were arrested on Saturday, with over 300 still in police custody on Sunday. More than 130 people were injured, while one protester is in serious condition in a coma.
Violence erupted on the margins of anti-fuel tax demonstrations held by the citizens’ protest movement known as the gilets jaunes – or yellow jackets. Speaking from the G20 meeting in Argentina, Macron said he would “never accept violence”.
He added: “No cause justifies that security forces are attacked, shops pillaged, public or private buildings set on fire, pedestrians or journalists threatened or that the Arc de Triomphe is sullied.”
The president said that the peaceful demonstrators had legitimate concerns and he would hear their “anger”, added their demonstrations had been infiltrated by violent rioters who would be brought to trial in court.
Macron, who has staked his political identity on a vow to never give in to street protests, is now under pressure to find a way to calm the growing mood of social revolt in France, which has taken him by surprise.
In Paris, riot police started firing the first tear-gas early on Saturday morning, as peaceful gilets jaunes arrived at the Champs Élysées. The spontaneous citizens’ movement, began in mid-November protesting against rising fuel taxes but it has morphed into a much broader anti-government and anti-Macron one challenging inequality and poor living standards.