French PM to meet party leaders and 'Yellow Vests' after Paris unrest

A vandalized car in Paris on Dec 2, 2018.
A vandalized car in Paris on Dec 2, 2018. Copyright REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
Copyright REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
By Pascale DaviesAlice Tidey & Reuters
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More than 400 people were arrested on Saturday after protests turned violent in Paris.


French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will meet with party leaders and members of the "Yellow Vests" movement on Monday morning following scenes of chaos across Paris over the weekend.

The scheduled meeting follows President Emmanuel Macron's emergency meeting on Sunday. The French presidency said in a statement that Macron had asked his interior minister to prepare security forces for more protests and the prime minister to hold talks with political party leaders and representatives of the protesters.

The French president rushed to the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday after he came back from the G20 summit in Argentina.

Protesters had earlier scrawled "Macron resign" and “The yellow vests will triumph” on the monument.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux had earlier indicated the administration could impose a state of emergency, following the arrest on Saturday of more than 400 people when the protest turned violent.

However, in an interview Monday morning with French radio station RTL, Laurent Nunez, the secretary of state for the interior minister, said a state of emergency was just "an option" and was not on any agendas.

A state of emergency, which was last imposed after the 2015 terror attacks, would allow authorities to establish a curfew, close down certain public places, forbid traffic and demonstrations in certain areas.

Griveaux told Europe 1 radio station Macron was open to dialogue, but would not reverse policy reforms.

Guerilla warfare

A dozen cars were set on fire, buildings were torched, tear gas was fired and water cannons were deployed in the French capital on Saturday in scenes reminiscent of guerrilla warfare.

The heavy clashes started shortly before 09:00 CET on the Place de l'Etoile, at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe, when groups of people tried to force their way through a police checkpoint set up to prevent a planned "Yellow Vest" protest from turning violent like it had the previous week.

The situation escalated quickly with some of the 1,500 protesters ripping cobblestones off the paved road to throw at police officers.

Police wrestled control of the area shortly after lunchtime but groups of men then roamed central Paris, leaving wrecked cars and destruction behind them.

REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Police work around the message, "The Yellow Vests will Triumph" written on the Arc de Triomphe, the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018.REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

A total of 412 people were arrested and 133 were wounded, including 23 law enforcement officers. According to the Ministry of the Interior, firefighters dealt with 190 blazes including six buildings which were set on fire.

Authorities blamed the violence on "thugs" as well as far-right and far-left groups.

'Let's be responsible'

The "Yellow Vests" movement is pushing for Macron to reverse his decision to increase taxes on fuel. The President says they are necessary to combat climate change.

The nationwide protest has been ongoing for the last three weeks with protesters setting up road blockages to significantly slow down traffic and the delivery of goods.

Discussions between the authorities and "Yellow Vests" protesters have been difficult because the movement is not affiliated to any political group or union and has no clear leadership. Furthermore, what started as a protest over the price of petrol has now mutated into a crisis about spending power and inequalities.

Speakers for "Yellow Vest" activists wrote on Sunday that they want the movement to be "the mouthpiece for a constructive anger." They have called on more demonstrations to be held.


Although the movement did not explicitly condemn the violence of the previous day, the spokespersons, which includes some of the founding members of the movement, urged protesters: "Let's be responsible and offer the government a door to end this crisis.

"Far from any radicalisation and in accord with the 80% of French people who support us, let's build a viable and credible project, in the interest of all", they added in an open letter published in Le Journal Du Dimanche.

REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
Workmen place a metal panel on the window of a vandalized bank the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018.REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

A test for Macron

Macron has often been referred to as "the president of the rich" and out of touch with with the working class.

Before Sunday's emergency meeting, the French President had met with police and firefighter near the Champs Elysees boulevard. While some bystanders jeered for the president, others called on him to resign.

As did other politicians such as far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of hard-left party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed).

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