Macron condemns ‘extreme violence’ as French protests continue
Riverboat set on fire and ministry building door smashed with fork-lift truck in Paris
Burning motorcycles in Paris: “Once again, extreme violence has come to attack the republic – its security forces, its representatives, its symbols,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter. Photograph: Abdul Abeissa/AFP/Getty
The latest round of anti-government protests across France at the weekend degenerated in Paris into violent clashes between protesters and the security forces, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to condemn “extreme violence”.
For the eighth Saturday in a row, gilets jaunes demonstrators – sporting the yellow reflective jackets that French motorists are obliged to carry in their cars – massed in cities around the country to protest against the cost of living and to call for Mr Macron’s resignation, underlining the challenge to the once-popular president’s authority after more than two months of disruption.
The interior ministry said there were some 50,000 demonstrators nationwide, compared with 32,000 the previous Saturday during the Christmas-new year holiday period. There were also clashes in Bordeaux, Caen and other cities.
In recent days Mr Macron and his government, sensing that urban shopkeepers and residents are dismayed by the economic impact of the prolonged unrest, as well as by the burning of cars and smashing of shop windows, have decided to take a tough line against the demonstrators, and have suggested that those who continue to protest are extremists who deserve no mercy.
A march of an estimated 4,000 people from the Paris town hall to the Assemblée Nationale began peacefully, but ended in violence and failed to reach its destination when some of the demonstrators – including a man identified by police as a former professional boxer – attacked a group of gendarmes in riot gear blocking a pedestrian bridge across the river Seine. A riverboat restaurant was set on fire.
Nearby, a small group stole a fork-lift truck from a construction site and smashed down the door to a ministry building containing the office of Benjamin Griveaux, the government spokesman, who was forced to flee under escort.
“Once again, extreme violence has come to attack the republic – its security forces, its representatives, its symbols,” Mr Macron said on Twitter. “Those who commit these acts forget the core of our civil pact. Justice will be done. Everyone must pull themselves together to prepare for debate and dialogue.”
Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, played down the significance of Saturday’s protests and said that 56,500 members of the security forces, more than one per demonstrator according to the official figures, had been mobilised to quell unrest.
“You can see that this movement is not representative of France,” he told LCI television. Although most of the demonstrations had passed off peacefully, he said, “at the end there were numerous provocations and attacks. Town halls were attacked – those in Rennes and Rouen – and institutions like the high court in Perpignan, and gendarmeries.”
The gilets jaunes protests were triggered by motorists’ anger over fuel prices that have risen as a result of green taxes introduced by the Macron government to reduce emissions, but the movement has since developed into an inchoate series of anti-government and anti-establishment demonstrations.
Mr Macron’s U-turn on the taxes and the promise of €10 billion of extra government spending to help the poor have not mollified the hardline protesters who continue to take to the streets on Saturdays.– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019