France in f lames

Ri­ot­ers torch cars and Christ­mas trees and steal po­lice rif le as Paris protests spread to Toulouse, Mar­seilles – and even Hol­land

The Mail on Sunday - - Peter Hitches - From Peter Allen IN PARIS

THE cen­tre of Paris was a war zone last night as hun­dreds of ‘yel­low vest’ pro­test­ers clashed with riot squads and set fire to cars and Christ­mas trees along the Champ­sElysées.

As the vi­o­lent protests spread to other cities in­clud­ing Toulouse and Mar­seilles as well as the Nether­lands, of­fi­cers fired tear gas and stun grenades at hooded demon­stra­tors, some of who stole an as­sault ri­fle from po­lice. At least 92 peo­ple were in­jured.

Last night, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron con­demned the demon­stra­tions, which were sparked by a rise in fuel prices and have threat­ened to de­rail his pres­i­dency.

‘I will never ac­cept this vi­o­lence,’ he said, speak­ing from the G20 sum­mit in Buenos Aires.

‘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.’

There were fears that vi­o­lent farRight and far-Left groups had in­fil- trated the 5,000 demon­stra­tors on the streets of Paris. Po­lice made more than 200 ar­rests and closed 29 metro sta­tions.

Chilling im­ages showed in­di­vid­ual of­fi­cers be­ing beaten by masked at­tack­ers, as other of­fi­cers were drenched in yel­low paint. At least a dozen cars were also set on fire.

Gre­gory Joron, of the SGP po­lice union, said: ‘It is peo­ple’s right to demon­strate, but ex­trem­ist groups have al­ready joined in. Groups in­tent on trou­ble are ap­pear­ing from all di­rec­tions. They in­clude those from the ex­treme Right and the ul­tra-Left.’

Jeanne d’Haute­serre, mayor of the city district that in­cludes the Champs-Elysées, said: ‘We are in a state of in­sur­rec­tion, I’ve never seen any­thing like it.’

As se­cu­rity of­fi­cials held cri­sis talks in the In­te­rior Min­istry for sev­eral hours dur­ing the af­ter­noon, un­rest erupted in sev­eral towns and cities across France, from Charleville Mezieres in the north­east to Mar­seilles in the south. In the Riviera city of Nice, trucks blocked ac­cess to the air­port.

French Prime Min­is­ter Édouard Philippe said there were around 36,000 ‘yel­low vest’ pro­test­ers – named af­ter the high- vis­i­bil­ity jack­ets they wear – demon­strat­ing across the coun­try. And in Hol­land, around 100 demon­stra­tors gath­ered out­side the par­lia­men­tary com­plex in The Hague in protest at gov­ern­ment poli­cies.

Mr Macron has in­sisted that fuel prices have to rise in line with green ini­tia­tives made nec­es­sary by the Paris Cli­mate Change ac­cord. He said there would be ‘no pos­si­bil­ity’ of his gov­ern­ment back­ing down in the face of dis­tur­bances.

CLASHES: Fire­fight­ers tackle a burn­ing car in the Champs-Elysées, and above left, yel­low vest pro­test­ers set fire to bar­ri­cades near the Arc de Tri­om­phe

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