French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear Sunday morning that he will no longer tolerate a rash of violent protests that have rocked Paris’s city center for the past several weeks, and promised that demonstrators — particularly those who defaced the famous Arc de Triomphe — will be “held responsible for their acts.”
The “yellow vest protests” which began several weeks ago continued this weekend, with demonstrators, clad in the safety vests the French government mandates each French person must keep in their personal vehicle for emergencies, running rampant across central Paris. On Saturday, the crowd of around 75,000 spray-painted the famous Arc, which sits at the head of the Champs-Élysées, Paris’s premiere thoroughfare, and demolished several statues on and near the Arc.
Protesters also overturned and torched cars.
Speaking from the G-20 summit, USA Today reports, Macron told reporters that the protests “have nothing to do with the peaceful expression of a legitimate anger” and that “no cause justifies” violence and destruction.
French authorities blamed the swatch of destruction on a few “troublemakers” who mixed in with thousands of peaceful protesters intending to take over the Champs-Elysees for a second weekend in a row, in an effort to send a message to the French government.
Demonstrators claim that they’ve finally had their fill of Macron’s overbearing nanny state, and that a recently introduced package of taxes and regulations meant to curb fossil fuel consumption by dramatically increasing the price of gasoline were the last straw in their dissatisfaction with Macron’s government.
The President has a remarkably low, 29% approval rating among his countrymen.
“[French Interior Minister Christophe] Castaner said troublemakers were mixing in with ordinary protesters, called ‘yellow jackets’ for their fluorescent vests, so they could run from police more easily,” USA Today reports. “He urged protesters not to take part in violence. Central Paris was locked down by Saturday afternoon, with all roads leading away from the arc closed off as more police moved in. Police said at least 224 people have been arrested in Saturday’s riot in the French capital.”
Sunday morning, authorities reported that that number had nearly doubled to 400. More than 200 people were injured in the riots, six buildings were “set ablaze,” and 160 separate fires were put out, Parisian authorities say. Around two dozen of those injured were members of law enforcement.
Macron will skip a major environmental conference — where he was expected to be received as a hero for his aggressive efforts to curb France’s carbon emissions — to take part in what he hopes to be a series of “talks” between his Prime Minister, government officials, and protest leaders. He will not “speak to the nation,” Al Jazeera reports, but he did visit the Arc de Triomphe Sunday morning, where he viewed the damage.
He was met with cries to “resign.”