PARIS: The French government will consider imposing a state of emergency to prevent a recurrence of France`s worst riots in years, but while it is open to dialogue it will not change course, its spokesman said on Sunday.
Masked, black-clad groups ran amok across central Paris on Saturday, torching cars and buildings, looting shops, smashing windows and fighting police in the worst unrest the capital has seen since 1968, posing the most formidable challenge Emmanuel Macron has faced in his 18-month-old presidency.
Disturbances also rocked several cities and towns and across France - from Charleville Mezieres in the northeast to Nantes in the west and Marseille in the south. "We have to think about the measures that can be taken so that these incidents don`t happen again," government spokeswoman Benjamin Griveaux told Europe 1 radio.
The popular rebellion erupted out of nowhere on Nov. 17 and has spread quickly via social media, with protesters blocking roads across France and impeding access to shopping malls, factories and some fuel depots. The protests began as a backlash against Macron`s fuel tax hikes, but have mined a vein of deep dissatisfaction felt towards the 40-year-old`s liberal economic reforms, which many voters feel favour the wealthy and big business.
Authorities were caught off guard by Saturday`s escalation in violence overshadowing the spontaneous protest movement, dubbed the "yellow vests" because many participants are wearing the fluorescent safety jackets kept in all cars in France.
In Paris, police said they had arrested more than 400 people while 133 were injured, including 23 members of the security forces. Police fired stun grenades, tear gas and water cannon at protesters at the top of the Champs-Elysees boulevard, at the Tuilleries Garden near the Louvre museum and other sites.
MACRON CHAIRING EMERGENCY CABINET MEETING
Macron will hold an emergency meeting with the prime minister and interior minister later on Sunday to discuss the riots and how to begin dialogue with the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests), who have no real structure or leadership. When asked about imposing a state of emergency, Griveaux said it would be among the options considered on Sunday.
"It is out of the question that each weekend becomes a meeting or ritual for violence."
Griveaux urged the yellow vest movement to disassociate itself from the radical groups that had instigated the violence, organise itself and come to the negotiating table. However, he ruled out a change in government policy. "We won`t change course. It`s the right direction. We are certain of that," he said.
Authorities said violent groups from the far right and far left as well as "thugs" from the suburbs had infiltrated the yellow vests movement in Paris on Saturday, though Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said most of those arrested were regular protesters who had been egged on by fringe groups.
Speaking on BFM TV late on Saturday, Castaner said the authorities had put all security measures in place to forestall disturbances, but that they had faced extremely violent, organised and determined groups. He did however say the government had made a mistake in how it communicated its plans to move away from oil dependence, the policy which led to fuel tax hikes.
Paul Marra, a yellow vest activist in Marseille, told BFM TV that the government was to blame for the violence across the country. "We condemn what happened, but it was inevitable. The violence started from the top. The biggest thug is the state through its inaction."