France’s prime minister held talks with opposition party leaders on Monday as President Emmanuel Macron sought a way to defuse nationwide protests over high living costs that led to widespread rioting and vandalism in Paris at the weekend.
The “yellow vest” revolt caught Macron unawares when it erupted on Nov. 17 and poses a formidable challenge to the 40-year-old as he tries to counter a plunge in popularity over his economic reforms, which are seen as favouring the wealthy.
Riot police were overrun on Saturday as protesters wrought havoc in Paris’s fanciest neighbourhoods, torching dozens of cars, looting boutiques and smashing up luxury private homes and cafes in the worst disturbances the capital has seen since 1968.
On Monday, protesters were blocking access to 11 fuel depots belonging to the oil company Total, and 75 of its filling stations had run dry, a company spokesman said.
The “yellow vest” movement, whose supporters cut across age, job profile and geographical region, began online as an impromptu rebellion against higher fuel prices but has morphed into a broader outpouring of anger over the squeeze that living costs are putting on middle-class household budgets.
The movement, whose members span the political spectrum and include radical fringe elements, has no clear leadership, making talks all the more complicated for the government.
“Making a small gesture and then sweeping the problem under the carpet, just as has always been done for the last 30 years, does nothing to solve the deeper, structural problems,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told France Inter radio.
“It will just start over six months down the line … That wouldn’t be respectful of anyone.”