After another weekend of gilets jaunes violence across France, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is holding crisis talks today with leaders of France’s major political parties.
Paris experienced France’s largest urban riot in years between Saturday and Sunday, with 133 people injured by police and gilets jaunes violence and 412 arrested. 112 cars were set alight, statues near the Arc de Triomphe were vandalised; and shop windows were smashed – some sectors have reported sales declines between 15 and 25 per cent since the riots began in mid-November.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was due to give an address to the French National Assembly tomorrow, but this has been cancelled to give priority to a hearing on gilets jaunes violence. Juncker may still attend a working dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron, but this is as yet unclear.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “France is needed in Europe, and we know that focusing on such disputes in a country of course consumes energy, but that is completely normal. France is known for its special protest culture, and I think we’re seeing that now, but from all that I hear and what is planned in the way of talks, we are confident that the situation there will calm down in the foreseeable future.”
The gilets jaunes protests began last month with roadblocks and demonstrations against an increase in fuel prices due to be implemented in January 2019 – low income and rural drivers particularly felt ignored by Macron’s government, which has garnered criticism for primarily benefiting the wealthy. While the movement has attracted widespread approbation – nurses, lorry drivers, police officers and today ambulance drivers have all expressed their support – the attendant gilets jaunes violence has led to hundreds of injuries and arrests.
Protesters in Paris on Saturday scaled the Arc de Triomphe, sprayed graffiti, hurled projectiles at the police and set fire to buildings, cars and barricades. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons.
The protests have spread to Brussels, where gilets jaunes violence on Friday led to 60 arrests – some protesters were arrested for carrying weapons, pepper spray and razor blades. Belgian protesters told reporters they were acting in solidarity with the French gilets jaunes; and that they too were angry about fuel prices as well as the overall cost of living.