French ‘Yellow Vest’ Rioters Target the Arc de Triomphe and Force Paris Museums to Shut

Cultural sites have fallen victim to the fuel tax protesters.

Demonstrators face riot police near the Arc of Triomphe. Photo by Lucas Barioulet/AFP/Getty Images.

Protesters wreaked havoc in Paris on Saturday as opposition to a rise in fuel tax escalated into rioting. Museums and auction houses were forced to close in a day of violence that left the Arc de Triomphe and Jeu du Paume photography gallery damaged. 

The “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) rioters—clad in the high-viz vests required to be carried in all French vehicles—torched cars, smashed windows, and looted stores across the nation. In Paris, the riots centered around the Champs d’Élysées, forcing nearby auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Artcurial to shut on Saturday. 

At the Arc de Triomphe, rioters plastered the monument in graffiti and smashed several sculptures, including one by François Rude depicting Marianne, goddess of liberty and a national symbol of the French Republic.

The nationwide protests, which began on November 17 as demonstrations against fuel taxes, have expanded to include frustrations with the French President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms. His opponents argue they favor the rich and businesses.

 

Museums within the radius of the conflict were instructed by police to close up shop on Saturday. This included the Jeu de Paume gallery, but it was targeted anyway. Rioters smashed the gallery’s windows and set a vehicle in front of the museum ablaze (images of which led to a number of false news reports that the museum itself was on fire).

The nearby Grand Palais, which is showing a major Joan Miró survey and “Michael Jackson: On the Wall,” the Petit Palais, and the Palais de la Découverte also closed as a precaution. All three reopened on Sunday without incident. The rioters pulled down an iron gate at the Tuileries garden near the Louvre, injuring several people, although the museum’s operations were unaffected. The Musée de l’Orangerie, housing Monet’s Waterlilies, remained open, but access from the rue de Rivoli and Place de la Concorde was restricted. Those entrances remain closed today.

The French culture minister spoke out against the violence on Twitter, writing, “When thugs attack the @jeudepaume or the @arcdetriomphe it is France, its history, and its values they attack. This is unacceptable.”

Macron took a firm stance on the violence when he spoke at a press conference during the G20 Summit on Saturday evening, saying, “No cause justifies that authorities are attacked, that businesses are plundered, that passerby or journalists are threatened, or that the Arc de Triomphe is defiled.” He visited the site on Sunday to survey the damage.

The president of the French national monuments center, Philippe Bélaval, estimates the damage could amount to €1 million. The monument will remain closed to the public for several days while recovery efforts are underway.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to subdue protesters and arrested more than 400 people across France. In all, the violence resulted in the deaths of three people and injuries to more than 260. On Sunday morning, Macron staged a crisis security meeting to discuss how to combat the escalating protests.


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