Paris (More Bank) – Rioters looted and burned shops and businesses on the famous Avenue des Champs-Elysees in Paris on Saturday, during the 18th weekend of "yellow vest" events in France, characterized by a sharp rise in violence after weeks of weakening of attendance.
President Emmanuel Macron interrupted a ski tour in the Pyrenees to return to Paris for a meeting of crisis, while masked protesters were unleashed in Paris, leaving a trail of destruction in the tourist heart of the city.
He promised to take "strong decisions" to prevent further violence as a result of the emergency talks held at the Interior Ministry last Saturday.
"There are people today who are trying by all means (…) to harm the Republic by smashing, destroying objects at the risk of killing someone," Macron said.
"All those present were complicit in the ravages that have spread over the Champs-Élysées," he added.
Police appeared overrun by protesters who invaded the Champs-Elysees, vandalizing and then setting fire to the Fouquet brewery, a favorite haunt of the rich and famous of the last century, as well as a luxury Longchamp handbag store, a bank, another restaurant and several news stands.
The rioters also looted several clothing stores and burned barricades in scenes reminiscent of the worst riots in Paris under a yellow vest in December.
"Like the vast majority of French people, I am very angry today," French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who visited the scene, tweeted.
"The actions of today are not the work of protesters, but looters, arsonists and criminals.No cause justifies this violence," he added .
In a statement, the national police denounced "blind violence, cowardly attacks" and stressed their determination to ensure public order against "provocateurs and vandals".
– Banking Blaze –
Saturday's participation was seen as a test of the force of the movement, which began in November with fuel tax increases and quickly turned into a rebellion against Macron's policy, viewed by protesters as targeting the rich.
In recent weeks, the size of the demonstrations has decreased. However, the Interior Ministry estimated the turnout in Paris at 10,000 on Saturday, about 32,300 at the national level.
This represents a fraction of the 282,000 people who, they said, took part in the inaugural events held throughout France on November 17, but more than the previous weekend.
Saturday's protests have been much more violent than in recent weeks. According to the police, nearly 240 people were arrested and prosecutors said more than 100 of them had been arrested.
The lit bank was on the ground floor of a building and firefighters were quickly evacuating residents, including a nine-month-old baby.
Eleven people were slightly injured in the bank fire, said the fire department to More Bank.
The violence injured 17 police and 42 demonstrators, the police said.
– "ultra-violent" minority –
The rally coincides with the end of the public debates called by the president to try to calm the demonstrations and give voters a forum to propose policy changes.
About half a million people have participated in public meetings held in the country in the past two months.
But many "yellow vests" have dismissed the consultation exercise as a smoke screen.
On Saturday, police used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons to suppress protesters gathered at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe War Memorial, which was ransacked by protesters on 1 December.
But for seven hours, they continued to be bombarded with cobblestones by protesters mostly dressed in black.
"There are a lot of people who have come just to break things," Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said, adding that some 1,500 "ultra-violent" militants had infiltrated the country. crowd.
"We were too kind, that's why it's violent today, I'm not in favor (of violence) but we are ruled by corrupt people who dare to lecture us. ", Jean-François Bernard, landscaper who was part of the protesters. , told More Bank.
The presidency later announced that Macron was returning home after returning from La Mongie ski resort where he and his wife Brigitte arrived Thursday for the weekend.
– we want results & # 39; –
Protesters flocked to the capital by train and by car for a rally that they called an "ultimatum" addressed to the president. More than 5,000 police officers have been deployed, as well as several armored police vehicles.
Macron was caught off guard when grassroots protesters began using roundabouts in November for fuel taxes. He released 10 billion euros ($ 11.2 billion) from the state stock market to try to defuse the protests.
But the measures taken have failed to soothe the anger of the protesters, who accuse the former banker of being elitist and favoring the wealthy.
The demonstration in Paris was one of many rallies held on Saturday in the capital, where tens of thousands of climate activists also organized a demonstration to ask the French government to meet its commitment to reduce emissions.
Yellow vest events also took place in several other French cities. In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, the police clashed with protesters and a bank was damaged.