France will consider imposing a state of emergency to prevent a recurrence of some of the worst civil unrest in more than a decade and urged peaceful protestors to come to the negotiating table, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Sunday. Groups of young men with faces masked, some carrying metal bars and axes, rioted on the streets of central Paris on Saturday, setting a dozen vehicles ablaze and torching buildings.
“We have to think about the measures that can be taken so that these incidents don’t happen again,” Griveaux told Europe 1 radio.
When asked about imposing a state of emergency, he said the president, prime minister and the interior minister would discuss all options available to them at a meeting on Sunday.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday that the wave of violence and vandalism in Paris on Saturday could not be justified in any way and had nothing to do with a peaceful expression of legitimate anger.
“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 told a news conference in Buenos Aires, where he was attending the G20 summit.
Declining to take questions after a day of rioting in Paris, he said those who had carried out the violence merely sought to spread chaos. He said he would convene a meeting of senior ministers has soon as he returns to discuss how to respond.
Rioters ran amok across central Paris on Saturday, torching cars and buildings, looting shops, smashing windows and clashing with police, posing a dire challenge to Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.
The authorities were caught off guard by the escalation in violence after two weeks of nationwide protests against fuel taxes and living costs, known as the “yellow vest” movement after fluorescent jackets kept in all vehicles in France.
In Paris, police said they had arrested almost 300 people while 110 were injured, including 20 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.
In some areas there was virtually no police presence at all, as groups of masked men roamed in the shadows of the capital’s fabled landmarks and through its fanciest shopping districts, smashing the windows of designer boutiques.
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.
On Saturday, some targeted the Arc de Triomphe, chanting “Macron Resign” and scrawling on the facade of the towering 19th-century arch: “The yellow vests will triumph.”
Protesters smashed the windows of a newly opened flagship Apple Store and luxury boutiques of Chanel and Dior, where they daubed the slogan “Merry Mayhem” on a wooden board.
Close to the Place Vendome, Christmas trees decorating the streets were upended, piled in the middle of an avenue and set ablaze, prompting chanting from scores of protesters.
Order appeared to have been restored late in the evening, although small groups were still at odds with police near the Champs Elysees.
Authorities said violent far-right and far-left groups had infiltrated the yellow vests movement. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said most of those arrested were regular protesters who had been egged on by the fringe groups.
The protests began as a backlash against Macron’s fuel tax hikes, but have tapped into a vein of deep dissatisfaction felt towards the 40-year-old’s economic reforms, which many voters feel favour the wealthy and big business.
Unrest erupted in several towns and cities across France, from Charleville Mezieres in the northeast to Marseille in the south. In the Riviera city of Nice trucks blocked access to the airport, and in the central town of Puy-en-Velay the police headquarters was set on fire.
The protests are taking a toll on the economy. Parts of central Paris that should have been packed with tourists and Christmas shoppers resembled battle zones, as smoke and tear gas hung in the air and debris littered the ground. Hotels and department stores in the capital stand to lose millions, and shelves have run empty in some supermarkets.