Injuries and damage after worst riot in a decade, Paris, France
France is currently experiencing widespread protests and riots that have led to massive clashes with police. Over the past three weeks, four people have died, hundreds have been injured and thousands of dollars’ worth of property has been damaged. The protests started around 17 November 2018 when French drivers sporting yellow vests led a demonstration of 280 000 people across the country to push back against rising taxes on gas and diesel. French President Emmanuel Macron, as part of his many economic reforms, announced the gas taxes earlier this year to minimise France’s reliance on fossil fuels. The tax will increase the price of fuel by about 30 cents per gallon and will continue to rise over the next few years, the French government says. Gas already costs about $7,06 per gallon in France.
The protest movement, now known as gilets jaunes, or “yellow vests” has blockaded streets and highways, burned cars, and brawled with police in response to the price hike. The riots in Paris last weekend are the largest the city has seen in nearly five decades.
This public discontent and anger is the greatest threat to Macron’s young presidency yet, in part because demonstrators also target his leadership and threatens to tear a divided country even further apart.
French President Emmanuel Macron asked for an evaluation of possible protest security measures on Sunday, a day after a Paris demonstration 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 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. 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.
Some radical far-right and far-left activists were involved in the riot, as well as a "great number" of protesters wearing yellow jackets, Delpuech said. The fluorescent jackets, which French motorists are required to have in their cars for emergencies, are an emblem of a grassroots citizens' movement protesting fuel taxes.
Fires were started at six buildings and more than 130 makeshift barricades and 112 vehicles were torched, Delpuech said. Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said 378 people remained in police custody as of Sunday evening, 33 of them minors. Earlier on Sunday, Macron visited the Arc de Triomphe, which had damaged statues as well as graffiti. One slogan on the famed war memorial read: "Yellow jackets will triumph." He then headed to a nearby avenue where activists battled police on Saturday to meet with fire fighters, police officers and restaurant owners.
At the security meeting, the French leader asked his interior minister to consider making "adaptations" to security procedures to try to contain ongoing protests sparked by rising fuel taxes, Macron's office said in a statement. Macron also asked Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to meet with the heads of France's major political parties and representatives from the grassroots movement behind the protests. Plans for an earlier meeting between the prime minister and representatives of the movement collapsed last week after a request to broadcast the talks live was rejected.
It was the third straight weekend of clashes in Paris involving activists dressed in the yellow vests of the new protest movement. The grassroots protests began 17 November with motorists upset over a fuel tax hike but have grown to encompass a range of demands and complaints that Macron's government does not care about the problems of ordinary people.
The scene in Paris contrasted sharply with protests elsewhere in France that were mostly peaceful. "It's difficult to reach the end of the month. People work and pay a lot of taxes and we are fed up," said Rabah Mendez, a protester who marched peacefully Saturday in Paris.
Speaking in Buenos Aires before he flew home to Paris, Macron said he welcomed the views of protesters but vowed that those who participated in wreaking havoc would be held responsible for their behaviour. "(Violence) has nothing to do with the peaceful expression of a legitimate anger" and "no cause justifies" attacks on police or pillaging stores and burning buildings, Macron said.