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Govt considers imposing state of emergency

France 24, Dec 2

The government will consider imposing a state of emergency to prevent a recurrence of the 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 spokesman 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.

One motorist died overnight after colliding with traffic which had built up due to a protest near Arles in southern France, marking the third accidental death associated with the protests.

According to figures released by the French interior ministry, around 75,000 demonstrators took to the streets across France on Saturday. The headcount was significantly lower than for the last two "Yellow Vest" protests, which drew roughly 300,000 and 100,000 respectively.

Authorities were caught off guard by Saturday's escalation in violence overshadowing the spontaneous protest movement, dubbed the "Yellow Vest" protest because many participants are wearing the fluorescent safety jackets kept in all cars.

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-Elysées boulevard, at the Tuillèries Garden near the Louvre museum and other sites.

Macron chairing emergency cabinet meeting

Macron was due to hold an emergency meeting with the prime minister and interior minister on Sunday to discuss the riots and how to begin dialogue with the “Yellow Vest” protesters, who have no real structure or leadership.

The president immediately went to the Arc de Triomphe after returning to Paris on Sunday from the G20 summit in Argentina to assess the damage after rioters looted and defaced the famous landmark during a day of riots.

TV images showed the inside of the monument ransacked with a statue of Marianne, a symbol of the French republic, smashed, and graffiti sprawled on the exterior ranging from anti-capitalist slogans to social demands.

When asked about imposing a state of emergency, government spokesman 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 Vest" 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.

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