France considers ‘all options’ to quell violent protests
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has canceled a trip to the COP24 global climate conference in Poland because of the riots in France, the Matignon Palace told CNN.
The decision comes as the French government said it was considering “all options” to control protests against rising fuel prices that have turned violent in Paris over the last three weeks, a spokesman said Sunday.
Speaking on France’s Europe 1 radio, spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said the government is thinking about steps to prevent “serious outbursts of violence,” including introducing a state of emergency.
More than 400 people were arrested and 133 injured in Paris on Saturday in clashes between police and protesters with the “gilets jaune” or “yellow vest” movement, who are protesting rising gas prices and taxes on polluting forms of transport.
An estimated 36,000 people demonstrated in Saturday’s protests across the country, marking the third consecutive week of such demonstrations, according to the French Interior Ministry. About 53,000 participated last week and about 113,000 the week before.
Griveaux said that between 1,000 and 1,500 people joined Saturday’s demonstrations “only to fight with the police, to break and loot.” He added that those protesters “have nothing to do with the yellow vests.”
Footage shared by French police on Saturday showed a few demonstrators striking a police vehicle and smashing its windshield. Other videos captured burning cars and police firing tear gas to disperse protesters.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner had mentioned a state of emergency, Griveaux said.
Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told reporters at a Sunday press conference those involved in Saturday’s protests would face “a very firm response from the criminal justice system.” Some will be brought up for trial as soon as Monday, according to the minister.
Asked about the possibility of a state of emergency, Belloubet said, “I am not sure we have reached that stage quite yet. I think there are other options.”
French President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency meeting with top officials on Sunday just hours after returning from the G20 summit in Argentina. In a statement, Macron paid tribute to law enforcement and rescue teams who “showed unrelenting bravery throughout the day and evening.”
Macron also “stressed the importance of judicial follow-up so that none of the acts committed remains unpunished,” the statement added.
Rising fuel prices are largely attributed to a leap in the wholesale price of oil worldwide.
But the protests have evolved into a broader demonstration against Macron, his government, and tensions between the metropolitan elite and rural poor.
Macron has borne the brunt of the demonstrators’ anger instead of OPEC for reducing oil production, or the US for imposing tariffs on Iran, which crippled oil exports.
Many protesters are angry with Macron for extending the environmental policies that were first implemented by former President François Hollande.
Paramedics on Monday joined the list of anti-government demonstrators and went on strike to protest finance reforms in their sector.
The violent protests and vandalism in Paris have “absolutely nothing to do with the peaceful demonstrations of a legitimate unhappiness or discontent,” Macron said on Saturday at a news conference in Buenos Aires, where he was attending the G20 summit.
“No cause justifies that security forces are attacked, shops pillaged, public or private buildings set on fire, pedestrians or journalists threatened or that the Arc de Triomphe is sullied,” Macron said.
Those responsible will be identified and taken to court, he added.
Upon his return to Paris on Sunday, Macron immediately visited the capital’s Arc de Triomphe — a flashpoint in Saturday’s violent protests — to “take stock of the damage” and pay tribute to the tomb of the unknown soldier at its base, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported.
He also met with police officers and firefighters who worked to contain the protests, BFMTV said.