Macron calls emergency meeting after riots leave France in shock – Financial Times

Emmanuel Macron held an emergency meeting of ministers on Sunday after anti-government riots left Paris and other French cities in a state of shock and the French president facing his most severe political crisis.

Returning from the G20 summit in Argentina, Mr Macron rushed to the Arc de Triomphe to assess the material damage done by the so-called “yellow jacket” demonstrators when they clashed with police in the heart of Paris the day before.

Measures under consideration by the government include the imposition of a state of emergency and the deployment of soldiers to help contain the next protests, Christophe Castaner, interior minister, said.

Saturday marked the third consecutive weekend of protests by the gilets jaunes — named after the fluorescent security vests car drivers have to keep in their vehicles. The spontaneous grassroots movement that began as an online protest against a planned rise in fuel taxes has evolved into a wide-ranging protest against the 40-year-old president, whose economic reforms have yet to yield tangible results.

About 136,000 demonstrators were counted across France on Saturday, of which more than 5,500 were in the French capital, according to authorities. This compares with 166,000 demonstrators last Saturday, and 282,000 across the country the weekend before that.

Clean-up operations continue under the slogan ‘The Yellow Vests will Triumph’ written on the Arc de Triomphe © Reuters

At least 263 people were injured and 412 arrested in the capital on Saturday, the interior ministry said. The wealthy west and centre of Paris were worst hit, with stores smashed and looted, barricades erected, dozens of cars burnt and the Arc de Triomphe covered in graffiti. Many protesters were masked to protect themselves against tear gas and many had written “Macron demission”, or “Macron resign”, on their vests.

During the emergency meeting in the Elysée Palace, Mr Macron “stressed the importance of judicial follow-up so that no [criminal] acts remain unpunished” and asked Mr Castaner to conduct a security review, according to an official.

The French president also told prime minister Edouard Philippe to start consultations with parliamentary leaders and representatives of the protest movement.

“What happened in Paris has nothing to do with the pacifist expression of legitimate anger,” Mr Macron said on Saturday at the end of the G20 summit. “No cause justifies the police being attacked, businesses being looted, passers-by or journalists being threatened, the Arc de Triomphe being defiled.”

A burnt-out car on a Paris street following the clashes © Reuters

The French government has sought to blame the far-right and the far-left for encouraging the clashes, but surveys have shown that a vast majority of the French population support the protests.

“There are people who came from the ultra-right, the ultra-left, but there are also many people who just came to Paris to wreak havoc,” Mr Castaner told BFMTV.

In an editorial published on Sunday in the weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, 10 self-proclaimed gilets jaunes representatives called for a freeze of planned fuel tax increases and the holding of countrywide consultations over taxes.

Yet, despite mounting discontent, there was little sign that the government was open to any gestures to protesters.

“We said we would not change course because the course is the right one,” Benjamin Griveaux, government spokesman, said on Sunday. “It’s been 30 years since people changed course every 18 months and if we had not changed course every 18 months for 30 years, the country would be better.”

Meanwhile, plans for a fourth consecutive weekend of gilets jaunes protests next Saturday were beginning to take shape on various social networks.

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