There were reports of violent clashes in Toulouse, Nantes, and Nice, but the worst of the violence was in Paris, where there have been more than 270 arrests Saturday and at least 100 people injured, the Interior Ministry said.
In some areas, groups of masked men roamed freely, smashing a police van with metal bars and setting trees alight. Dozens of streets and Metro stations were closed, bringing the centre of the city to a standstill.
"Of all the things that happened, the arson attacks, the attacks on the police, the attacks on the shops in the Champs Elysees, it is the Arc de Triomphe and the graffiti that was pasted over it, that is the biggest offence, as far as the administration is concerned", he said.
The popular rebellion erupted out of nowhere on Nov 17 and spread quickly via social media, with protesters blocking roads across France and impeding access to shopping malls, factories and some fuel depots.
Mr Macron visited the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe, which was scaled by demonstrators on Saturday. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe canceled a trip to Poland. "We are committed to dialog, but also respect for the law". Even luxury shops on nearby rue Faubourg St. Honore, where no protests were expected, were closed Saturday and their windows boarded up.
Security officials were locked inside the Interior Ministry for crisis talks for several hours during the afternoon.
The violence in Paris contrasted sharply with protests elsewhere in France on Saturday that were mostly peaceful.
The "casseurs" (rioters) who smashed up parts of Paris were exploiting the "yellow vests" campaign for their own ends, he said.
The protests are referred to by many as the Yellow Vest movement, and most of the demonstrators throughout the country donned the vests before taking to the streets.
Protesters angry about rising taxes clash with police in Paris, 81 arrested
Disturbances also rocked several cities and towns and across France - from Charleville Mezieres in the northeast to Nantes in the west and Marseille in the south. "He urged protesters not to take part in violence". On Saturday, boulevards that should have been packed with tourists and Christmas shoppers resembled battle zones, as smoke and tear gas hung in the air and debris littered the ground. Hotels and department stores in the capital stand to lose millions, and shelves have run empty in some supermarkets.
Some peaceful protesters held up a slogan reading, "Macron, stop treating us like idiots!" But he insisted he would not be bounced into changing policy by "thugs".
Protesters build a barricade during a protest of Yellow vests against rising oil prices and living costs, on December 1, 2018 in Paris.
"The violence is increasing at an exponential rate", said Claude, a resident in the affluent 16th district. "It's time too give it back".
Three people have been killed in the protests since demonstrations started more than two weeks ago, police said. "The gas taxes were just the final straw", she said. "The anger is rising more and more, and the president despises the French".
Commentators on television said it's the most extensive violence in Paris since the May 1968 student uprisings.
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.
It has supporters across the political spectrum, from far left to far right, although Mr Macron has accused his political opponents of hijacking the movement in order to block his reform programme.
For now, the "yellow vests" - who take their name from the high-visibility jackets all motorists in France must carry in their vehicles - enjoy widespread public support.
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