PARIS • President Emmanuel Macron rushed to the Arc de Triomphe yesterday after one of France's most revered monuments was vandalised by rioters, with the government considering a state of emergency after the worst bout of unrest for years.
Masked, black-clad groups ran amok across central Paris last Saturday, torching dozens of 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 Mr Emmanuel Macron has faced in his 18-month-old presidency.
Mr Macron and key ministers were to meet later yesterday to consider declaring an emergency to prevent a recurrence of the riots.
The government is open to dialogue but will not change course, spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.
A popular revolt over fuel tax hikes and high living costs erupted suddenly on Nov 17 and has spread quickly via social media.
On his return from the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, Mr Macron paid an immediate visit to the Arc de Triomphe, the 19th-century arch that towers over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and avenues nearby where cars had been torched and luxury shops pillaged.
TV footage showed the interior of the Arc ransacked and graffiti scrawled on the exterior ranging from anti-capitalist slogans to demands for Mr Macron's resignation.
Under heavy security, the French leader spoke with police and firefighters on one of the avenues near the Champs-Elysees boulevard, with some bystanders cheering, but more jeering him.
Meanwhile, workmen in the upper-crust district of central Paris set about cleaning the defaced Arc, removing charred hulks of cars and replacing the shattered windows of banks, restaurants and luxury boutiques.
The protests began as a backlash against Mr Macron's fuel tax hikes, but have mined a vein of deep dissatisfaction felt towards his liberal economic reforms, which many voters feel favour the wealthy and big business.
Mr Macron says higher diesel taxes are needed to fight climate change by spurring motorists to drive cleaner cars.
Mr Griveaux said a state of emergency was among the options being considered yesterday. He urged the yellow vest movement to disassociate itself from 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.
The authorities were caught off guard by last Saturday's escalation in violence overshadowing the spontaneous protest movement, dubbed the "yellow vests" because many participants wear the fluorescent safety jackets kept in all cars in France.
In Paris, the police said they had arrested more than 400 people while 133 were injured, including 23 members of the security forces.
Disturbances also rocked several cities and towns and across France.
Meanwhile, a driver was killed overnight in an accident at a yellow vest blockade in south-eastern France after a car collided with a heavy goods vehicle, the third death since the protest began, a gendarmerie official told Reuters.
Paris cleans up after worst unrest in decades
Paris was picking up the pieces yesterday, one day after clashes broke out during a protest by the "yellow vest" movement against rising oil prices and living costs. The anti-government protesters torched dozens of cars, damaged storefronts and vandalised buildings, including the revered Arc de Triomphe monument, during clashes with riot police across central Paris on Saturday. It was the worst unrest the capital had seen in decades. President Emmanuel Macron yesterday paid a visit to the Arc de Triomphe ahead of a Cabinet meeting on whether to declare a state of emergency. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised Singaporeans travelling to France or those in the country to stay away from large gatherings.