French Government Meets on Riot Response as Clean-Up Begins

(Bloomberg) -- Clean-up crews were at work across Paris after Saturday’s riots as President Emmanuel Macron returned from Argentina and held an emergency cabinet meeting.

Saturday’s “Yellow Vests” protests saw 412 arrests and 133 wounded, including 23 among the security forces, according to the Paris police. There was also violence in Toulouse, Nantes, near Lyon, and in the Ardennes. Rioters burned cars throughout Paris, looted stores and restaurants, and sprayed graffiti on the Arc de Triomphe monument and trashed its interior.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Europe1 Sunday morning that the government wouldn’t alter the main points of its controversial ecological and budget policies, but was “open to dialogue.” He also said “all options must be studied” when asked about police unions’ requests that emergency law be imposed.

Macron last year lifted emergency rule that had been imposed after 2015’s terror attacks.

Macron said on Saturday at the Group of 20 meeting in Argentina that the scenes of “chaos” weren’t representative of the “legitimate anger” roiling France, but he refused to answer questions over his response.

75,000 People

Macron returned from Argentina late morning Sunday and went straight to the Arc de Triomphe and adjoining streets to survey the damage and talk to policemen and store owners. He then met at the Elysee presidential palace for an hour-and-a-half with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.

Macron’s office said they discussed security measures, but never raised the issue of emergency rule. Macron isn’t expected to speak publicly in the next few days, his office said, but the president asked Philippe, who canceled a trip to a climate conference in Poland on Monday, to meet with the leaders of political parties and with representatives of the protesters.

The Interior Ministry said 75,000 people took part in a third weekend of nationwide protests. The demonstrations began against higher gasoline taxes and have now spread to wider complaints about purchasing power.

Commentators on television said it was the most extensive violence in Paris since the May 1968 student uprisings.

The grassroots movement, named after the Yellow Vests that motorists must keep in their cars, has led to sporadic blockades of roads, fuel depots and warehouses for the past two weeks, and violent clashes on weekends. It’s organized through social media and has no leadership, but has the support of three-quarters of the French public, polls show.

‘People’s Assembly’

The movement’s demands have expanded from rolling back the gasoline taxes 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, cutting politicians’ salaries, and replacing Macron and the National Assembly with a “People’s Assembly.” While political parties have tried to show their support for the movement, the Yellow Vests have rejected any political link.

Ten founding members of the movement signed a letter in Sunday’s “Journal du Dimanche” newspaper “denouncing all forms of violence” but saying they wanted to “extend their hand to the government in the hope that it listens to our demands, that it accepts to modify its tax decisions, and finally allows all citizens to be actors in our country’s politics.”

An earlier attempt to create a structure for the Yellow Vests was abandoned last week when the eight self-declared spokespeople were threatened by other members of the movement who don’t want a leadership.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.