'Yellow vest' protests an economic disaster for France - minister
Macron prepares to make new concessions after a record 1,700 arrests amid violent outbursts in Paris and other cities
France's finance minister has warned that the country's worst street protests in decades were "an economic disaster" as burned-out cars and debris were cleared from the streets of Paris and other cities yesterday.
"It's a catastrophe for trade. It's a catastrophe for our economy," said Bruno Le Maire, a conservative serving under Emmanuel Macron, the embattled centrist president who came to power last year promising to modernise France with sweeping pro-business reforms.
Mr Le Maire promised that the state and insurance companies would foot the repair bill. Tax payments due at the end of the year will be postponed for retailers whose shops were ransacked only two weeks before Christmas, he said.
Dozens of cars were torched in Paris on Saturday as protesters roared "Macron resign". Clashes also broke out in Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon and Toulouse during the fourth consecutive weekend of protests.
Mr Macron will reportedly meet representatives of trade unions, employers' organisations and associations of local elected officials today.
The meeting, due to take place at 10am local time, is designed to "bring together all the political, territorial, economic and social forces at these difficult times for the nation, in order to hear their voices and proposals with a view to mobilise them into action," a source told AFP.
Tourism has suffered a blow, with Paris hotel bookings over Christmas and New Year, normally a busy period, down by at least 20pc. Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris, said the damage to property was worse than in the previous weekend's riots.
"The protests spread over a much larger area, so many more places were hit," he said. But there was less violence thanks to an increase in police numbers and more efficient tactics. Officers swiftly detained hooligans, arresting more than 1,700, a record for a single day in post-war France.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the foreign minister, rebuked Donald Trump for a provocative tweet in which he appeared to back the protesters and claimed without any evidence they were chanting his name on the streets of Paris.
"We do not take part in domestic American politics and we want that to be reciprocated," Mr Le Drian said.
Thousands of 'yellow vest' protesters continued blockading petrol stations and barricaded roads across the country yesterday. They oppose fuel tax rises but ministers say it has been hijacked by "ultra-violent" protesters.
Thomas Lebrun, a 62-year-old pensioner, demonstrating near Vierzon, in central France, said: "We won't stop until our demands are met. We want action not words."
The increasingly unpopular president is expected to make a televised address to the nation today or tomorrow. Under fire for remaining silent for the past week, Mr Macron's approval ratings have plunged to record lows of below 20pc.
With critics accusing him of being arrogant and remote, he faces an enormous challenge in trying to win back public support. He has already scrapped increases in "green" taxes on fuel, but the protesters want further concessions such as tax cuts for people on low incomes and tax increases for businesses.
Such measures would mark a humiliating U-turn for the president, who has been trying to attract foreign investors and entice banks and finance companies to relocate from London to Paris by offering tax breaks.