The French government has been preparing a new bill to toughen punishment for aggressive protestors, which may make them personally responsible for property damage, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has told the TF-1 TV channel.
"We need to preserve the right to protest in France. Those who want to peacefully use this right must not be punished. That’s why the government favors improving the law [on manifestations] and adding new acts to it," he said, adding that the new legislation will target "those who do not fulfill their obligation of filing a request [for protests], those who participate in previously undeclared protests and those wear hoods and masks."
"We need to increase their administrative responsibility, up to making them pay [for damage] instead of taxpayers," he said.
According to the premier, about 1,000 people have been convicted for their role in disturbances that took place during the Yellow Vests protests all over the country.
"In all, 5,600 people were detained, and sentences were handed down on 1,000 of them," he said.
This figure includes 13 rioters, who vandalized Paris’s iconic Arc de Triomphe and the museum inside it.
A total of 153 people remain in custody pending court verdict.
"I would prefer a more severe punishment for them, but this is not up for me to decide," the prime minister said.
Earlier on Monday, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner condemned the intensified calls for violence against police. In his address to law-enforcement officers and emergency service workers, he said that measures against aggressive participants of Yellow Vests protests will be toughened.
"Calls for violence are becoming a routine occurrence, but, worse, they are becoming a source of pride [for those who make them]," the minister said in a BFM TV broadcast. "We will have to be ultra-tough to counter ultra-violence."
The official added that he would put forward a proposal to the president and the prime minister to organize debates for discussions on a new legislative act "to reflect our long-term vision of domestic security."
In mid-November, France was gripped by street riots over skyrocketing fuel prices, growing taxes and soaring living costs. The demonstrations spiraled into clashes with the police and a protest against the country’s leadership, whom protestors accuse of ineffective government and taking insufficient measures to fight poverty. Despite certain concessions made by the authorities, like cut taxes and wage hikes, the Yellow Vests are pledging to carry on these rallies.
So far, eight nationwide rounds of protests have already been held. In many cities, including the capital Paris, protesters clashed with police, set property on fire and ransacked shops.
The Journal du Dimanche newspaper said in late December that French insurance companies were expected to pay compensations of about 150,000-200,000 euro to businessmen, whose property was vandalized during the protest. Meanwhile, the National Council of Shopping Centres, also known under its French acronym CNCC, said on December 17 that sales of major commercial enterprises have fallen by 2 million euro since the start of the protest. Amid the riots, the Bank of France had to halve its national GDP growth outlook for the fourth quarter of 2018, to 0.2% from 0.4%
The ninth nationwide rally is scheduled for Saturday, January 12. According to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, about 80,000 law enforcement officers will be on duty all over the country, including 5,000 in Paris "to prevent riots and ensure that those committing illegal deeds are brought to justice.".