French President Emmanuel Macron has ordered his prime minister to hold talks with political leaders and demonstrators, as he seeks a way out of nationwide protests after rioters turned central Paris into a battle zone.
Riot police yesterday were overwhelmed as protesters ran amok in Paris's wealthiest 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.
The unrest began as a backlash against fuel tax hikes but has spread. It poses the most formidable challenge yet to Mr Macron's presidency, with the escalating violence and depth of public anger against his economic reforms catching the 40-year-old leader off-guard and battling to regain control.
After a meeting with members of his government on Sunday, the French presidency said in a statement that the president had asked his interior minister to prepare security forces for future protests and his prime minister to hold talks with political party leaders and representatives of the protesters.
A French presidential source said Mr Macron would not speak to the nation today despite calls for him to offer immediate concessions to demonstrators, and said the idea of imposing a state of emergency had not been discussed.
Arriving back from the G20 summit in Argentina, Mr Macron had earlier rushed to the Arc de Triomphe, a revered monument and epicentre of yesterday's clashes, where protesters had scrawled "Macron resign" and "The yellow vests will triumph".
The "yellow vest" rebellion erupted out of nowhere on November 18, with protesters blocking roads across France and impeding access to some shopping malls, fuel depots and airports.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux had indicated the Macron administration was considering imposing a state of emergency.
The president was open to dialogue, he said, but would not reverse policy reforms.
"We won't change course. We are certain of that," he told Europe 1 radio.
As he spoke, 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 glitzy boutiques.
Reforms to remain
While the protests were initially against Mr Macron's fuel tax hikes - necessary he says to combat climate change - they have also mined a vein of deep dissatisfaction felt towards his liberal reforms, which many voters feel favour the wealthy and big business.
Police said they had arrested more than 400 people in Paris yesterday and that 133 were injured. Some 10,000 tear gas canisters and stun grenades were fired as well as water canon as security forces fought for control.
The president's unyielding response has exposed him to charges of being out of touch with common folk outside of France's big cities who worry about the squeeze on household budgets and job security.
The protests have driven Mr Macron's popularity to record lows and left him facing a lose-lose situation, Gael Sliman, president of the Odoxa polling institute said.
Either Mr Macron caves in to the pressure and is derided by opponents as weak, or he puts down the dissent, Mr Sliman said.
Before heading into today's meeting, Mr Macron met under heavy security with police and firefighters near the Champs Elysees boulevard. Some bystanders cheered, others jeered and called on him to resign.
So too did Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of hard-left party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who both demanded the government unwind its fuel tax hikes. They called for parliament to be dissolved and snap elections held.