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Protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel taxes, demonstrate near the Place de l'Etoile in Paris, Dec. 1, 2018.

Some 136,000 demonstrators, majority peaceful, were counted across the country on Saturday, the interior ministry said Sunday in updated figures.

The Yellow Jackets/Vests or Gilets Jaunes movement began three weeks ago as a protest against Macron's climate change inspired fuel tax hikes, with protesters saying Macron is a "president of the rich" and does not care about the concerns of everyday citizens.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Saturday's violence was due to extremists who hijacked the protest, people who came "to loot, break and hit police forces". Saturday's violence was France's worst riot in over a decade, according to the Associated Press.

They were not necessarily hard-core political activists nor veterans of street violence: some of them however were ready to resort to violence to protest against government policies.

"That's why his popularity is at 26 percent, and we see riots occurring in such a way that he may have to declare a state of emergency", he said. "Nothing justifies attacking the security forces, vandalizing businesses, either private or public ones, or that passers-by or journalists are threatened, or the Arc de Triomphe defaced". "They betray the causes that they pretend to serve and which they manipulate", Macron said on Saturday.

The president and his ministers must now decide what action to take in response to a turn of events that in its drama and violence has shocked the country. The president visited some of the flashpoint locations on Sunday.

But the protests have evolved into a broader demonstration against Macron, his government, and tensions between the metropolitan elite and rural poor.

The "yellow vest" movement erupted on social media in October and has since become a wider protest against Macron, who is accused of failing to recognise the rising costs of living that has left many struggling.

Many in the country believe they have to pay high taxes but get little in return in the way of social benefits that are largely created to aid the poor, and that they are being left behind by Mr Macron's policies.

Mr Macron returned from the G20 summit in Argentina on Sunday morning and went straight to the Arc de Triomphe to assess the damage.

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Many ordinary people joining the protests expressed outrage at the trouble-making elements.

Police closed off some of the city's most popular tourist areas as they tried to quell the mayhem in the streets.

Tear gas was sacked and water cannons were deployed as officers struggled for control.

Violent anarchist and far-right groups have infiltrated it and are thought to be behind Saturday's clashes.

NurPhoto via Getty Images Rioters stand near flames and a barricade on Saturday.

Undeterred by strictly controlled access to the Champs-Elysees, the scene of serious rioting at a protest a week earlier, mobs dispersed to other central areas, often unprotected.

A demonstrator wearing a yellow jacket waves a French flag at the Arc de Triomphe. Everyone's fed up. He's got to listen more", said Amaya Fuster, eyeing graffiti daubed on a Printemps department store window that read: "There's enough money in the coffers of businessmen.

One person was in a critical condition after protesters pulled down one of the huge iron gates of the Tuileries garden facing the Louvre museum, crushing several people.

Protesters threw molotov cocktails into the Haute-Loire District Governor's Office. "So for now, I'm on the streets for a peaceful demonstration, I don't support the thugs at all". "It is unacceptable. Our country faces a major crisis".

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner attributed the violence to "specialists in inciting conflict and destruction".

Referring to the possibility of imposing a state of emergency - a demand made by the police union Alliance - Castaner declared: "Nothing is taboo for me".


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