French President Emmanuel Macron (C) flanked by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner (2ndR), Paris police prefect Michel Delpuech (R) and French Junior Minister attached to the Interior Ministry Laurent Nunez (L) walks in a street of Paris on Sunday. — AFP
Paris — French President Emmanuel Macron led a crisis meeting on Sunday after anti-government protests in Paris that left 263 people injured and widespread destruction around the capital.
Macron met with the prime minister, interior minister and top security service officials at the presidential palace in Paris after flying in from the G20 summit in Argentina.
He earlier visited the Arc de Triomphe, a monument to France’s war dead, and other scenes of violence where he paid tribute to the police but was also booed by sections of the crowd.
Paris police said 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.
“No cause justifies that authorities are attacked, that businesses are plundered, that passers-by or journalists are threatened or that the Arc du Triomphe is defiled,” he said.
As protests took place across the country, a motorist died overnight after crashing a van into traffic which had built up due to a “yellow vest” demonstration in Arles, southern France, a local prosecutor said Sunday.
The so-called “yellow vest” anti-government protests that have swept France over the last fortnight were sparked initially by a rise in taxes on diesel.
In a separate incident, a motorway pay booth was set on fire by arsonists in southern France near the city of Narbonne, a judicial source told AFP Sunday. Five people were taken into custody, a prosecutor said.
The main north-south motorway in eastern France, the A6, was also blocked by protesters near the city of Lyon on Sunday morning, its operator said.
The capital was calm, however, but as groups of workers moved around cleaning up the mess from the previous day, the scale of the destruction became clear.
Around famous areas including the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre museum, the Opera and Place Vendome, smashed shop windows, broken glass and the occasional burned-out car were testament to the violence.
Dozens of cars were torched by the gangs of rioters, some of whom wore gas masks and ski goggles to lessen the effects of tear gas which was fired continually by police.
One person was in a critical condition after protesters pulled down one of the huge iron gates of the Tuileries garden facing the Louvre museum, crushing several people.
Nearly 190 fires were put out and six buildings were set alight, the interior ministry said.
At the Arc de Triomphe graffiti had been daubed, with one slogan saying: “The yellow vests will win.”
Some 136,000 demonstrators, most of them peaceful, were counted across the country on Saturday, the interior ministry said Sunday in updated figures.
Interior Minister Christophe 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.”