The centre of Paris was on lockdown tonight after masked protesters stole an assault rifle from police, clashed with riot squads and set fire to cars and Christmas trees on the Champs-Elysees in furious demonstrations against the French government.
Protesters said today’s actions were ‘the start of a revolution’ that would eclipse the mass strikes and occupation of universities and factories in1968 when the country was on the cusp of civil war.
Fires and clouds of tear gas covered the French capital from early morning until late in the evening, in some of the worst violence ever seen in the French capital as more than 5,000 demonstrators brought chaos to Paris for the second week running.
As so-called Yellow Vest fuel price demonstrators marched along the opulent Avenue Foch near the Arc de Triomphe, home to embassies and luxury residences, they were joined by criminal groups included looters.
French President Emmanuel Macron has promised the protesters will be ‘held responsible for their acts’.
Macron said today’s demonstrations which have left dozens injured and hundreds arrested ‘have nothing to do with the peaceful expression of a legitimate anger.’ He said ‘no cause justifies attacks on police or pillaging stores and burning buildings’.
Macron said he is holding an emergency government meeting Sunday on the protests. He spoke from the G20 summit being held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
French police confirmed there had been at least 224 arrests today during the protests for a series of offences, ranging from violent disorder to theft. There were 110 serious injuries, including more than 20 police officers.
Although police managed to clear the square around the Arc de Triomphe toward midday, cat-and-mouse skirmishes continued as protesters spread out to nearby streets and neighbourhoods.
Macron has sought to douse the anger by promising three months of nationwide talks on turning France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.
He also vowed to slow the rate of increase in fuel taxes if international oil prices rise too rapidly but only after a tax hike due in January.
On Friday, the government tried – mostly in vain – to talk to representatives of the movement.
Eight were invited to meet Prime Minister Edouard Philippe but only two turned up, and one walked out after being told he could not invite TV cameras in to broadcast the encounter live to the nation.
The protests have caught Macron off guard just as he was trying to counter a fall in his popularity rating to 30 per cent.
His unyielding response has exposed him to charges of being out of touch with ordinary people.
In last week’s violence the Dior Store was among those looted, with the designer fashion business losing up to £1million worth of stock. Police responded with water cannon and round upon round of tear gas in an effort to quell the violence.