Macron to hold emergency Cabinet meeting over Paris protests

Pat Wise
December 3, 2018

French authorities have deployed thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and Emmanuel Macron's presidency.

Activists wearing yellow jackets torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores, threw rocks at police and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti.

An estimated 75,000 demonstrators, a lot of them peaceful, were counted across the country in the afternoon, the interior ministry said.

The "yellow vest" demonstrations, which were first triggered weeks ago by planned fuel price hikes, turned chaotic in the French capital on Saturday, which saw its worst riots in more than a decade.

"The protesters want to see French workers represented by the French government the same way Donald Trump is representing American workers", he said.

President Emmanuel Macron denounced the violence from Argentina, where he was attending the G20 summit.

Addressing a news conference in Buenos Aires, Macron said no cause justified the looting of stores, attacks on the security forces or torching of property.

The president and his ministers must now decide what action to take in response to a turn of events that in its drama and violence has shocked the country.

The movement's demands have also expanded to higher pensions, an increase in the minimum wage, a repeal of certain other taxes, the restoration of a wealth tax, a law fixing a maximum salary, and replacing Macron and the National Assembly with a "People's Assembly".

The "yellow vest" movement erupted on social media in October and has since become a wider protest against Mr Macron, who is accused of failing to recognise the rising costs of living that has left many struggling.

Fired up Fuel price demonstration in Brussels
Fired up Fuel price demonstration in Brussels

Many in the country believe they have to pay high taxes but get little in return in the way of social benefits that are largely created to aid the poor, and that they are being left behind by Mr Macron's policies. He will not "speak to the nation", Al Jazeera reports, but he did visit the Arc de Triomphe Sunday morning, where he viewed the damage. Three people have now died in incidents linked to the protests. Although a few blamed provocatively heavy-handed policing, it was clear they had been joined by masked activists prepared for trouble.

Trouble originally flared at around 9am when a group of protesters tried to break through a police check point to get onto the famous avenue. Stanislas Gaudon, leader of the trade union Alliance Police, said officers had faced a situation of "unprecedented magnitude". Police later fired tear gas in the area.

In his 18 months in office, the centrist Mr Macron has been a target of ire from France's left and right, and his popularity was just 20 per cent nationwide before the protests even began in November.

Access to the Champs-Elysee was closed to cars and strictly monitored by police with identity checks and bag inspections.

Graffiti was also sprayed on many storefronts and buildings.

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.

Outside Paris, a government building was seriously damaged by fire in Puy-en-Velay, in the south-central department of Haute-Loire.

French authorities are claiming extremists on the right and left and suburban "thugs" have infiltrated and hijacked protests with violence or egged on peaceful demonstrators.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted her "indignation" and "deep sadness" at the destruction and clashes with police, saying that violence is "not acceptable". "It is unacceptable. Our country faces a major crisis".

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and Griveaux urged the protestors to organise themselves and come to the negotiating table.

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