PARIS — With the holiday period in full swing, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps had to evacuate shoppers from their Boulevard Haussmann flagships on Saturday, with central Paris on lockdown during a fresh round of violent clashes across the city between police and protesters opposed to the policies of French President Emmanuel Macron. The French government is said to be considering declaring a state of emergency.
The country has been gripped by a series of protests initially sparked by a fuel tax and now encompassing a range of demands over declining living standards, with demonstrators in reflective safety vests — known as “gilets jaunes,” or “yellow vests” — taking to the streets and blocking roads to show discontent.
More than 400 people were arrested as demonstrators assembled at the Arc de Triomphe at the head of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the Tuileries Gardens and other sites across the French capital in a standoff with riot police, who responded with water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades, according to reports. In total, 133 people were injured, including 23 police officers, the police department said.
The scenes echoed last weekend’s chaotic battlefield episodes on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, with smoke-filled images circulating of torched luxury cars and vandalized stores and banks in the golden triangle and elsewhere across the city.
Lined with riot police vans, security this weekend had been tightened on the avenue, which fetches some of the highest rents in the world. Traffic was sealed off and pedestrian access was tightly controlled with identity checks and bag searches. Nearby metro stations were closed. Rioters nonetheless managed to smash windows of the newly opened Apple flagship and of Chanel and Dior stores in the neighboring streets, according to reports.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner in a tweet said the grassroots movement had been infiltrated by hooligans.
Macron, who landed in Paris on Sunday from attending the G20 summit in Argentina, said he would hold an emergency inter-ministerial meeting on Sunday with the relevant services. “I will always respect differences, I will always listen to opposition, but I will never accept violence,” he said on Twitter Saturday.
In separate tweets, Macron said the violence “has nothing to do with peaceful expression of legitimate grievances.”
“Nothing justifies attacks on the security forces or the pillaging of stores, that public and private buildings be torched, that passersby or journalists be threatened, that the Arc de Triomphe be defiled,” he said.
“Shame on you. We are better than this,” Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing said in an Instagram post on Sunday, addressing “the people responsible for this shameful day.”
He admonished them for “mindless destruction that you left behind” and called out their “utter disrespect for the values that define France.”
According to figures released by Castaner at noon on Saturday, an estimated 36,500 people, including 5,500 in Paris, took part in protests across France. This compares to a total of 53,000 in the demonstrations that took place on Nov. 24, of which 7,000 were in Paris, and 113,000 on Nov. 17, of which 2,200 were based in the French capital.
As reported, the French government has announced emergency measures to help retailers compensate for lost business due to several weeks of anti-government protests, with demonstrators blocking roads and vandalizing stores, causing foot traffic to plummet during the crucial holiday spending season.
Retail sales were down 35 percent compared with the same period a year ago on Nov. 17, on the first weekend of protests, and fell 18 percent on Nov. 24, according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.
He said he would extend Sunday openings in the run-up to the holidays to allow businesses to recoup some of their losses.