Emmanuel Macron has asked for an evaluation of security measures after a Paris demonstration against increased taxes and living costs turned into France’s worst urban riot in a decade.
Hours after he flew back to the French capital from the G20 summit in Argentina, the president held an emergency meeting at the Elysee palace while crews worked to remove burned-out cars, broken glass and graffiti from the Champs-Elysees and other 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 tackle 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 and rocks.
Some radical far-right and far-left activists were involved in the riot, as well as a “great number” of protesters wearing yellow jackets, Mr 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 against fuel taxes.
Fires were started at six buildings and more than 130 makeshift barricades and 112 vehicles were torched, Mr Delpuech said.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said 378 people remained in police custody as of Sunday evening, 33 of them minors.
Earlier on Sunday, Mr 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 firefighters, 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 protests sparked by rising fuel taxes.
Mr Macron also asked Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to meet 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 on November 17 with motorists upset over a fuel tax hike, but have grown to encompass a range of demands and complaints that Mr 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 on Saturday in Paris.
Speaking in Buenos Aires before he flew home to Paris, Mr 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, Mr Macron said.