‘Yellow vest hooligans’ torch Paris in city’s worst riot
FRENCH President Emmanuel Macron has asked for an evaluation of possible protest security measures, a day after a Paris protest against increased taxes and living costs devolved into France's worst urban riot in a decade.
Hours after he flew back to the French capital from the G-20 summit in Argentina, Macron held an emergency meeting at the Elysee presidential palace while crews worked to remove charred cars, broken glass and graffiti from the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue and other top Paris sites.
Paris police said 412 people were arrested and 133 people were injured, including 23 police officers, as crowds trashed the streets of the capital on Saturday.
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.
Macron assessed the damage at the Arc de Triomphe, the massive monument to France's war dead at the top of the famous Champs Elysees avenue, where rioters scrawled graffiti and ransacked the ticketing and reception areas.
The president also saw the wreckage of burnt-out cars and debris from rioting at other sites, where he praised the police but was also booed by sections of the crowd.
Anti-government protesters torched dozens of cars and set fire to storefronts during daylong clashes with riot police across central Paris at the weekend, as thousands took part in fresh "yellow vest" protests against high fuel taxes.
Smoke engulfed several shopping districts as the violence spread from the Arc de Triomphe, where crowds had gathered earlier hoping to march down the Champs-Elysees.
While several dozens were allowed into the avenue after an ID check and search, many others - some wearing gas masks or ski goggles - remained behind and fought police manning barricades and water cannons.
Protesters then led police on cat-and-mouse chases through other parts of the capital, setting cars and construction equipment alight and smashing windows.
An assault rifle was stolen from a police vehicle, a source told AFP, though it was unclear if it was loaded.
One person was in a critical condition after protesters pulled down one of the huge iron gates of the Tuileries garden facing the famed Louvre museum, crushing several people.
"Those responsible for this violence don't want change or improvement, they want chaos," Macron said from Buenos Aires on Saturday, where he was attending a G20 summit.
"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," he added.
Nearly 190 fires were put out and six buildings were set alight, the interior ministry said.
An estimated 75,000 demonstrators, most of them peaceful, were counted across the country.
The number was well below the first day of protests on November 17, which attracted around 282,000 people, and also down from the 106,000 who turned out last Saturday.
Acrid plumes of smoke and tear gas, however, were testament to the escalation in violence in Paris, to the consternation of many of the "yellow vests", so-called for the high-visibility jackets they wear.
Along the opulent Avenue Foch near the Arc de Triomphe, home to embassies and luxury residences, protesters ripped out benches to form a blockade, one person waving a skull and bones pirate flag.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, speaking on French television, attributed the violence to "specialists in sowing conflict, specialists in destruction".
Chantal, a 61-year-old pensioner who was peacfully protesting, said she was avoiding the "hooligans" but was determined to send Macron a message on the rising costs of living.
"He has to come down off his pedestal," she said under rain in the Champs-Elysees. "Every month I have to dip into my savings."
Others voiced indignation at graffiti sprayed on the Arc de Triomphe, a monument to French war dead, including phrases like "Macron resign" and "the yellow vests triumph".
The countrywide protests have included many pensioners and have been most active in small urban and rural areas where demonstrators blocked roads, closed motorway toll booths, and even walled up the entrance to tax offices.
Attempts by the government to negotiate with the grassroots movement have failed, in large part because representatives have insisted on public talks broadcast on TV.
Macron has sought to douse the anger by promising three months of nationwide talks on how best to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.
He also vowed to slow the rate of increase in fuel taxes if international oil prices rise too rapidly but only after a tax hike due in January.