Students, paramedics join France cost-of-living protests

Anti-government protesters gain new allies as French paramedics and students join rallies while the prime minister meets with political rivals in a bid to ease the anger following riots that rocked Paris.

'Yellow vest' movement that began Nov. 17 bringing together people from across political spectrum

Ambulance drivers hold smoke bombs in the colours of the French flag during a demonstration at the Place de la Concorde in Paris on Monday. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

Anti-government protesters gained new allies Monday as French paramedics and students joined rallies while the prime minister met with political rivals in a bid to ease the anger following riots that rocked Paris.

Facing the most serious crisis since his election in May 2017, President Emmanuel Macron remained silent but met with police officers to offer them support after "a day of unprecedented violence," the Élysé​e palace said.

On Saturday, more than 130 people were injured and 412 arrested in the French capital amid one of the worst waves of unrest in the country in recent years. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, closing down dozens of streets and subway stations to contain the riot.

The "yellow vest" or "yellow jacket" movement — led by protesters wearing the distinctively coloured roadside safety garb used by motorists — is bringing together people from across the political spectrum complaining about France's economic inequalities and waning spending power.

Emergency meeting

More protests took place on Monday in Paris as dozens of ambulances blocked a bridge leading to the National Assembly. Lines of riot police stood in the rain to prevent them from getting too close to the building.

The paramedics who joined the demonstrations are complaining about changes to working conditions. Students opposing education reforms also joined in, blocking dozens of high schools across France, according to French media reports.

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, shakes hands with a firefighter during a visit in the streets of Paris on Sunday. (Geoffroy Van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images)

Clashes between protesters and police officers took place again Monday on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where demonstrations have been particularly violent in recent weeks.

Macron, just back from the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, held an emergency meeting Sunday on security. The government hasn't ruled out the possibility of imposing a state of emergency.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the crisis has forced Macron to postpone a visit to Belgrade that would have started Wednesday "for a couple of weeks."

Torched cars, broken glass

Saturday's rioting was the third straight weekend of clashes in Paris. The protests began last month with motorists upset over a fuel tax increase and have grown to include a range of complaints that Macron's government doesn't care about the problems of ordinary people. Other protests in France remained peaceful.

A police officer stands in front of a car set on fire by students protesting against French government reforms on Monday in the north of Paris's suburb of Aubervilliers. (Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

By Sunday, some of the most popular tourist streets in Paris were littered with torched cars and broken glass from looted shops and the Arc de Triomphe monument was tagged with graffiti.

During Monday's protest by paramedics, some demonstrators set fire to a small pile of debris and blocked traffic. One activist held up a sign reading "The State killed me" and others chanted "Macron resign!"

'Come down from Mount Olympus'

Prime Minister É​douard Philippe and Macron have been lambasted for their handling of the crisis. After meeting with the prime minister, Socialist leader Olivier Faure urged Philippe to drop the tax hikes and restore a wealth tax that was slashed by the centrist government.

"We want a change in the method. One needs to come down from Mount Olympus," Faure said, referring to Macron's nickname of Jupiter, the mythical god.

Laurent Wauquiez, head of the centre-right Les Ré​publicains party, urged Macron to hold a referendum to end the crisis but didn't say what its topic should be.

Ambulance drivers face off with French gendarmes in Paris on Monday. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

"French people need to be heard again, and for that we must organize a referendum to decide these issues. Only these measures will restore calm," Wauquiez said.

Since the movement kicked off on Nov. 17, three people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests. Over the past three weeks, protesters have been setting up road blockades across the country and their movement has garnered wide public support.

Philippe will try to defuse tensions this week before more possible protests this weekend, speaking with yellow vest representatives on Tuesday. Members of the National Assembly will also hold talks on France's social crisis later this week. Meanwhile, trade union CGT has called for a day of protest across France on Dec. 14.