PARIS — Paris police said Sunday that 133 people had been injured and 412 had been arrested as protesters trashed the streets of the capital during France’s worst urban riot in years.
French President Emmanuel Macron was holding an emergency meeting on security later Sunday with his prime minister and interior minister. He has vowed that those responsible for the violence and the damages will pay for their actions.
A protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot Saturday in the most popular tourist areas of the French capital. Activists wearing yellow jackets torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores, threw rocks at police and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. Police responded with tear gas and water cannon, closing down dozens of streets and Metro stations as they tried to contain the riot.
Police said 23 police officers were among the injured and 378 of the arrested have been put in police custody.
By Sunday morning, Paris city employees were cleaning up the graffiti on the Arc de Triomphe. One read: “Yellow jackets will triumph” - a reference to the fluorescent yellow vests that protesters are wearing to demand relief for France’s beleaguered workers.
Some of Paris’ major avenues near the Arc de Triomphe and streets around the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue and the Tuileries garden were littered with piles of debris and burned cars. Graffiti was also sprayed on many storefronts and buildings.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Saturday’s violence was due to those who hijacked the protest, people who came “to loot, break and hit police forces.”
He was questioned why thousands of French police couldn’t prevent the damage, especially to the nation’s Arc de Triomphe monument.
“Yesterday we made a choice … to protect people before material goods,” Griveaux told French broadcaster BFM TV.
It was the third straight weekend of clashes in Paris involving activists dressed in the yellow vests of a new protest movement and the worst urban violence since at least 2005. The scene in Paris contrasted sharply with protests elsewhere in France on Saturday that were mostly peaceful.
“It’s difficult to reach the end of the month. People work and pay a lot of taxes and we are fed up,” said Rabah Mendez, a protester who came to march peacefully in Paris.
The demonstrators say Macron’s government does not care about the problems of ordinary people. The grassroots protests began Nov. 17 with motorists upset over a fuel tax hike, but now involve a broad range of demands related to France’s high cost of living.
“(Violence) has nothing to do with the peaceful expression of a legitimate anger” and “no cause justifies” attacks on police or pillaging stores and burning buildings, Macron said in Buenos Aires.
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