Macron still silent as France cleans up after more ‘catastrophic’ protests

  • Officials say French president will address nation in next few days after fourth weekend of violent protests against fuel tax increase and rising living costs
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2018, 8:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 12:09pm

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to make a major announcement in the coming week after further violence from “yellow vest” protesters, the government said on Sunday.

Anti-government protesters faced off with French riot police in Paris on Saturday, hurling projectiles, torching cars and vandalising shops and restaurants in a fourth weekend of unrest that has shaken Macron’s authority.

Macron is facing mounting criticism for not appearing in public in over a week as violence worsened. His last major address to the nation was on November 27, when he said he would not be bounced into changing policy by “thugs”.

“The President of the Republic will of course make important announcements,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on LCI television on Sunday. “However, not all the problems of the ‘yellow vest’ protesters will be solved by waving a magic wand.”

Following last weekend’s riots, the government offered a string of concessions to try to soothe public anger, scrapping fuel increases planned for January and freezing energy prices.

Macron left it to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to announce the first major U-turn of his presidency. But the move failed to end the “yellow vest” movement, which demands lower taxes, higher minimum wages and better pension benefits.

US President Donald Trump appeared to support the protesters in a Twitter comment, ridiculing the fuel tax increase Macron says is needed to stop global warming.

“Very sad day & night in Paris,” he tweeted. “Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes? The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major country where emissions went down last year!”

In response to Trump’s tweet, France’s foreign minister on Sunday urged the US president not to interfere in French politics.

“We do not take domestic American politics into account and we want that to be reciprocated,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told LCI television. “Leave our nation be.”

With France’s deficit and not wanting to flout EU rules, Macron has scant wriggle room for more concessions.

“When you see this level of protest, it is clear that we need a change of method, but that does not mean we will not also make fundamental announcements,” Griveaux told BFM Television.

Violence linked to the protests are a “catastrophe” for the nation’s economy, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned on Sunday.

“It’s a catastrophe for commerce, it’s a catastrophe for our economy,” Le Maire told reporters as he visited shops in Paris hit by looting during anti-government riots a day earlier.

More than 1,700 people were arrested across France over the weekend, the interior ministry said.

Besides Paris, clashes broke out in several cities, including Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon and Toulouse.

A total 1,220 of the 1,723 detained were ordered held in custody, the ministry said.

Police in Paris said they made 1,082 arrests on Saturday, up sharply from 412 the previous weekend.

The interior ministry said some 136,000 people took part in Saturday’s protests, around the same number as on December 1. However, Paris authorities said the they caused “much more damage”.

“The sector concerned by the incidents was much larger … With fewer barricades, there was much more dispersion, so many more places were affected by violence,” Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told France Inter radio.

Police frisked protesters Saturday at railway stations around the country, confiscating everything from heavy metal petanque balls to tennis rackets – anything that could possibly be used as a weapon.

Riot police repeatedly repelled them with tear gas and water cannon. Used tear gas canister lids lay scattered on the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees.

The running battles between yellow vests and riot police left 71 injured in the capital.

The Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum reopened Sunday after closing for Saturday’s rioting. Shops assessed looting damage and cleared out broken glass, after closing during the riot, which came at the height of the Christmas shopping season.

Protesters had ripped off the plywood protecting some of the shop windows.

Fierce winds and rain hit Paris overnight, complicating the clean-up efforts.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters