France’s finance minister on Sunday pledged the government would help cover damages suffered by business during the latest Yellow Jackets riots, calling the destruction caused by protesters a “catastrophe for our economy.”
“It’s a time when normally business is going well, it’s the eve of Christmas celebrations, and now, it’s a catastrophe,” Le Maire told reporters during a tour of a Paris neighborhood battered by the latest protests. “It’s a catastrophe for business, it’s a catastrophe for our economy.”
The government will deliver a “very concrete and very direct” response to businesses affected by the violence, he said, adding: “The bills for the damages must be covered by the state, by solidarity, by the insurers.”
About 120,000 police, military security and firefighters responded to protests on Saturday, in a nearly one-to-one ratio with the more than 125,000 protesters that rallied on the streets in towns and cities across France, according to the interior ministry. In Paris, shop owners boarded up their businesses, museums and major tourist attractions were closed, and police arrested 1,082 protesters.
City mayor Anne Hidalgo pleaded for an end to the Yellow Jacket riots, which have become a chaotic ritual over the past four weekends in the French capital, where nearly 20 percent of the economy is related to tourism.
Police arrested around 1,700 people around France, keeping around 1,200 in custody.
“Hundreds of shops and public facilities prevented from opening, degradation in many neighborhoods, a cultural and economic life at the stop, an international image to restore: The damage is immeasurable,” Hidalgo wrote on Twitter Saturday. “It is unimaginable that we would relive this.”
The rising economic toll increases the pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron as he prepares to address the nation early next week. Efforts to appease the leaderless movement by reversing plans to raise the controversial gas tax that prompted their initial demonstration on November 17 have had little effect.
While the number of Yellow Jackets protesters may be shrinking in France — around 125,000 down from 282,000 on November 17 — their lists of demands is growing, as is their reach. Some members have called for more assistance to rural and low-income areas, while others have called for Macron to step down as president. According to polls, a majority of French people support the movement.
Meanwhile, protests have spread to Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon and Toulouse. Yellow Jackets also descended on the European Quarter in Brussels on Saturday.
“The escalation of violence has been stopped,” France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, told reporters. “It’s been contained, but remains totally unacceptable.” Police arrested around 1,700 people around France, keeping around 1,200 in custody. There were more than 260 injuries, around 40 them to police.
But despite the drop in violence, destruction is getting worse, according to Parisian authorities.
Saturday’s protests caused “much more damage” than the previous week’s, Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Grégoire told France Inter on Sunday.
The violence may have been “less radical,” he said, without the sensational images of an attack on the Arc de Triomphe. But because “there were fewer barricades, there was much more dispersion, and therefore many more places affected by violence,” Grégoire said.
Even before Saturday’s confrontations, the Yellow Jackets took a substantial bite out of revenues: The previous three weekends cost French retailers about €1 billion, the French Retail Federation told Reuters. Le Maire told a business sector gathering last week that hotel reservations are down by as much as a quarter, and restaurant revenues are down 20 to 50 percent, depending on their locations, according to the BBC.
On Sunday, Le Maire expressed confidence that Macron “will have the words” to calm the discord this week. “What the French are demanding is the nation’s unity and justice,” Le Maire said.
“The solution will not only come from the state,” he added. “It will come also from all who have a role to play in the country’s economic activity.”