Emmanuel Macron, the French president, came under attack on Sunday for failing to prevent “yellow vest” protesters from wrecking Paris’s grandest avenue, the Champs-Elysées.
The centrist president cut short a skiing break in the Pyrenees and flew back to Paris to chair an emergency security meeting, but critics said the resurgence of violence was predictable and he should never have left the capital.
Demonstrators smashed nearly every shopfront on the Champs-Elysées, set fire to a bank and torched cars on the 18th consecutive Saturday of protests against Mr Macron’s business-friendly economic reforms.
Laurent Wauquiez, leader of the main Right-wing opposition party, The Republicans, renewed his call for a state of emergency. “Another Saturday of violence which was left to degenerate in the heart of our capital,” Mr Wauquiez tweeted. “It is time to act.”
Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor of Paris, said: “We are in the midst of a major social and political crisis. We should have been capable of controlling a situation like the one we have just experienced. I’m waiting for explanations from the government.”
Mr Macron acknowledged that the authorities should have been able to prevent the destruction. “I want us to analyse things very clearly and take strong decisions very soon so that this does not happen again,” he said.
Parliament last week passed controversial legislation toughening penalties for violent demonstrators, banning them from covering their faces and allowing police to bar known troublemakers from taking part.
However, it has yet to be enforced. Some of Mr Macron’s own MPs object to the new law on the grounds that it infringes civil rights. The president has responded by referring it to the Constitutional Council for a ruling on whether it complies with the French constitution.
Eric Ciotti, a Republican MP, accused the president of seeking to undermine his own legislation. “This is double-talk. He is endangering our country.”
The police rejected claims that they had been too soft on the vandals. Stanislas Gaudon, a police union spokesman, said lenient sentences by courts had fostered a sentiment of impunity among protesters. “We’ve repeatedly seen that those we’ve risked life and limb to arrest have got off with warnings or suspended sentences. This has to stop.”
About 200 people arrested during the protest were in custody on Sunday.