French President Emmanuel Macron has ordered his prime minister to hold talks with political leaders and “yellow vest” demonstrators to end nationwide protests after rioters turned central Paris into a battle zone.
After a meeting with members of his government on Sunday, the French presidency said in a statement that Macron had also asked his interior minister to prepare security forces for future protests.
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A French presidential source said Macron would not speak to the nation on Sunday despite calls for him to offer immediate concessions to demonstrators, and said the idea of imposing a state of emergency had not been discussed.
The meeting came a day after “yellow vest” demonstrations, which were first triggered by planned fuel price hikes, turned chaotic in Paris, which saw its worst riots in more than a decade.
French police officers responded with tear gas, after demonstrators hurled stones and projectiles towards them, on the third weekend of demonstrations that have morphed into a broader rebukeof Macron.
Authorities said that at least 133 people were injured, including 23 members of the security forces.
Michel Delpuech, Paris police prefect, said six buildings were set ablaza and 112 vehicles were torches. There was also widespread destruction around more than 130 makeshift barricades/
Delpuech said some participants in Saturday’s rioting used hammers, gardening tools, bolts and aerosol cans in clashes with police.
He added that some far-right or far-left activists were involved in the rioting as well as a “great number” of protesters wearing yellow jackets.
The government said it will brief the French Senate on Tuesday about the protests and its measures to prevent a repeat of the damages.
Earlier on Sunday, Macron visited the Arc de Triomphe in Paris after the famous landmark was defaced during the riots.
TV images showed the inside of the monument ransacked with a statue of Marianne, a symbol of the French Republic, smashed, and graffiti scrawled on the exterior.
Some bystanders cheered the president but more jeered him, with some protesters chanting: “Macron, resign!”
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner attributed the violence to “specialists in sowing conflict, specialists in destruction”.
French government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said that “all options should be considered to maintain public order and safety.”
Reporting from Paris, Al Jazeera’s David Chater said that the attacks on the monument were carried out by a small minority of the protesters, but the damage to the landmark has touched a nerve in the French government.
“Of all the things that happened, the arson attacks, the attacks on the police, the attacks on the shops in the Champs Elysees, it is the Arc de Triomphe and the graffiti that was pasted over it, that is the biggest offence, as far as the administration is concerned,” he said.
‘They want chaos’
An estimated 75,000 protesters, the majority of them peaceful, were counted across France on Saturday afternoon, according to the interior ministry.
That number was well below the total on the first day of protests on November 17, when 282,000 people took part across the country. Last Saturday, 106,000 took to the streets.
But the vast plumes of smoke and tear gas that clouded the capital on Saturday were a testament to the escalation of violence in Paris.
“Those guilty of this violence don’t want change, they don’t want improvements, they want chaos. They betray the causes that they pretend to serve and which they manipulate,” Macron said on Saturday.
“They will be identified and brought to justice for their actions,” he said. “I will always respect debate and I will always listen to the opposition but I will never accept violence,” Macron said.
The “yellow vest” movement erupted on social media in October and has since become a wider protest against Macron, who is accused of failing to recognise the rising cost of living that has left many people struggling.
The countrywide protests have included many pensioners and have been most active in small urban and rural areas where demonstrators have blocked roads, closed motorway toll booths, and even walled up the entrance to tax offices.
Two people have died in the rallies, which opinion polls suggest still attract the support of two out of three French people.
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 rise due in January.