Police vehicles set on fire as French riots continue after King’s visit cancelled
Police vehicles were set on fire by protesters in France, as President Emmanuel Macron faced another day of violent demonstrations.
Thousands fought running battles with heavily armed officers at a gathering on Saturday at Sainte-Soline, near Poitiers.
Gerald Darmanin, the interior minister, said two critically injured people – one of them a police officer, the other a protester – were transported by helicopter to hospital.
They were protesting against the deployment of a new water-storage centre, and comes a day after clashes elsewhere in the country over Mr Macron’s plan to push the retirement age up from 62 to 64 without a parliamentary vote. Those riots had led to the cancellation of a royal visit from King Charles III.
“While the country is rising up to defend pensions, we will simultaneously stand up to defend water,” said the organisers gathering under the banner of “Bassines non merci” (“No to reservoirs, thank you”).
As the violence intensified on Saturday Mr Darmanin said “far left” rioters were also using mortars to fire explosives at the police. Three police vehicles were completely burned out, and multiple officers injured.
Mr Darmanin said: “In Sainte-Soline, the ultra left and the far left are extremely violent against our gendarmes. This is appalling and unacceptable.”
“No-one should tolerate this,” he added. “My full support is with the police.”
Earlier this week, Mr Darmanin accused anti-government thugs of “trying to bring down the state and kill police officers”.
“Police have completely lost control,” said one of the demonstrators at Saint-Soline. “Vehicles have been set on fire using Molotov cocktails, and officers are running away, while firing tear gas cannisters at us.”
A police spokesperson said: “Explosives are being used against us, and we are trying to bring the situation under control.
“There are radicals in the crowd who are trying to severely injure the forces of law and order.”
He said an estimated 6,000 people had turned up to the protest – ecological demonstrators swelled by those demonstrating against Mr Macron’s retirement reforms.
The Sainte-Soline water reserve is one of 16 installations developed by a group of 400 farmers to reduce mains water usage in summer.
Opponents claim these so-called “megabasins” are reserved for large export-oriented grain farms, and work against the local community.
It follows more than a week of intense social disorder across France that made cancelling Charles’s visit inevitable.
Threats made against him included the words “Death to the King”, a macabre message that was scrawled by protesters on walls in Paris.
They prompted Mr Macron to say: “I think it would not be responsible and would lack some common sense if we invited His Majesty the King and the Queen Consort for a state visit in the midst of the demonstrations.”
Senior politicians including Mr Macron had received threats evoking the guillotine used to execute Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette – the last rightful king and queen of France.
The words “Death to the King” had even appeared in bright red graffiti on Place de la Concorde – the central Paris square where Louis and his wife were killed. Another scrawled message read “Charles III do you know the guillotine?”
The French feared the security of King Charles could not be guaranteed “because of his interest in mingling with crowds”, according to security sources.
A crack team of officers from the SDLP Protection Service unit rigorously studied the monarch’s profile.
“They became aware of the King’s habit of impromptu handshakes, and talking to ordinary people whenever he could,” said a source who was involved in the planning of events.
“There are huge social tensions in France, and there is no doubt that such good manners could have been very dangerous indeed.”
The development was a major humiliation for Mr Macron, especially as a visit to Germany by the Royal couple next week will go ahead as planned.
Eric Ciotti, leader of the opposition Republicans party in France, said the chaotic security situation was a national embarrassment.
“The visit of Charles III is cancelled by the government due to social unrest,” said Mr Ciotti. “What an image for our country, which is not even able to ensure the security of a head of state.”