The French finance minister warned that France’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 on Sunday.
“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.
Tourism has suffered a blow, with Paris hotel bookings over Christmas and New Year, normally a busy period, down by at least 20 per cent.
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 they were chanting his name on the streets of Paris. Telegraph reporters, placed across the city, heard no such chants.
“We do not take part in domestic American politics and we want that to be reciprocated,” Mr Le Drian said.
Thousands of protesters continued blockading petrol stations and barricaded roads across the country on Sunday.
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 on Monday or Tuesday.
Under fire for remaining silent for the past week, Mr Macron’s approval ratings have plunged to record lows of below 20 per cent.
With critics accusing him of being arrogant and remote, he faces an enormous challenge in trying to win back public support amid the most serious unrest since students and workers rioted in May 1968.
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.
Benjamin Griveaux, the government spokesman, warned: “All the problems of the ‘yellow vests’ can’t be settled by waving a magic wand.” But he added that Mr Macron would make “important announcements”.
According to French media, he may raise the minimum wage and pensions, and introduce a tax-free bonus for workers on low incomes.
The “yellow-vest” movement, which takes its name from the high-visibility jackets worn by demonstrators, began as a protest against fuel tax increases four weeks ago.
It has since widened to encompass a range of demands such as 40-per-cent increases in the minimum wage and benefits, and the re-introduction of a wealth tax on high earners, scrapped by Mr Macron as part of a drive to promote investment.
French intelligence is investigating claims that the movement, which began on social media, spread with the help of Russian trolls. Hundreds of social media accounts linked to Russia allegedly played a role in spreading disinformation, but officials said no evidence of Russian state involvement had been uncovered so far.