France to consider state of emergency to contain violent riots
Paris, Dec 2: France may consider imposing a state of emergency to ensure incidents of rioting do not repeat, government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said on Sunday, a day after Paris witnessed the country's most violent riots in more than a decade, Reuters reported.
Several people in fluorescent yellow jackets and masked faces rioted on the streets of Paris on Saturday, setting dozens of vehicles and buildings on fire. They also tagged the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most famous monuments in Paris, with graffiti and looted several stores, according to AP.
The "gilet jaunes" or "yellow vest" protests, named after the fluorescent jackets stored in all vehicles in France, began on November 17 against rising fuel taxes and high cost of living, and escalated this weekend. So far, the protests were peaceful. On Saturday, demonstrations and road blockades in other parts of France were largely peaceful.
"We have to think about the measures that can be taken so that these incidents don't happen again," Griveaux said on Sunday. "It is out of the question that each weekend becomes a meeting or ritual for violence."
Macron is set to fly into Paris late morning after attending a G20 summit in Argentina and will meet the prime minister, interior minister and top security service officials at the presidential palace. New figures released from the Paris police service showed that 412 people were arrested on Saturday during the worst clashes for years in the capital and 378 were still in custody.
A total of 133 had been injured, including 23 members of the security forces who battled rioters for most of the day in some of the most famous parts of the capital. "I will never accept violence," Macron told a news conference in Buenos Aires before flying home.
Macron faces a dilemma in how to respond to the "yellow vests", not least because they are a grassroots movement with no formal leaders and a wide range of demands. Some representatives have also insisted on public talks broadcast on TV.
"We have said that we won't change course. Because the course is good," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told BFM television defiantly on Sunday morning. "It's been thirty years that people change course every 18 months," he added, referring to Macron's presidential predecessors who have often caved in to pressure from French street protests. Macron has so far refused to roll back taxes on fuel, which he says are needed to fund the country's transition to a low-emission economy.
And he remains a fervent defender of the tax cuts he has delivered for businesses and high-earners, which he believes were necessary to lower the country's chronic high unemployment.
"We're at a time when a bit of national unity around our security forces, around those who are really struggling would be a good thing for the country," Griveaux added.
An estimated 75,000 demonstrators, most of them peaceful, were counted across the country on Saturday, the interior ministry said.
The number was well below the first day of protests on November 17, which attracted around 282,000 people, and also down from the 106,000 who turned out last Saturday.
Interior Minister Castaner attributed the violence to "specialists in sowing conflict, specialists in destruction". He did not rule out imposing a state of emergency -- a demand made by the police union Alliance -- declaring: "Nothing is taboo for me. I am prepared to examine everything."
Two people have died and dozens have been injured in the rallies, which opinion polls suggest still attract the support of two out of three French people.