Paris sees third weekend of clashes as 'yellow vest' protesters take to streets
More than 80 people were injured and more than 200 arrested in central Paris yesterday after violent clashes between police and "yellow vest" protesters, in a third weekend of nationwide demonstrations against high living costs.
Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon in battles with protesters around the Arc de Triomphe near the Champs-Elysees avenue and clashes were reported elsewhere across the city centre as well as in other towns across the country. The upmarket Galeries Lafayette and the Printemps department store in central Paris have closed their doors as violence has spread
Police said they had arrested 183 people and some are concerned that violent far-right and far-left groups were infiltrating the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests) movement, a spontaneous grassroots rebellion against the struggle many French face to make ends meet.
For three weeks, protesters have blocked roads across France, posing one of the largest and most sustained challenges Emmanuel Macron has faced in his 18-month-old presidency.
Sixty-five people, including 16 members of the security forces, have been injured in the capital, Paris police said.
"We are attached to dialogue, but also respect for the law. I am shocked by the attacks on the symbols of France," said a government spokesman.
The skirmishes in Paris broke out early yesterday, with rioters and peaceful protesters mixed together after authorities cordoned off the Champs-Elysees, forcing them into adjacent streets.
Demonstrators put up barricades in the surrounding areas, smashed some car windows and set alight dozens of vehicles, including a police car. A restaurant in the vicinity was also set ablaze.
Several hundred yellow vests, who have no leader and have largely organised themselves online, sat around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, singing France's national anthem, and chanting, "Macron Resign!" On the 19th-Century arch, protesters scrawled in big black letters: "The yellow vests will triumph."
Clashes also took place in other cities and towns including Nantes in the west, Toulouse and Tarbes in the southwest, Puy-en-Velay in the centre of the country, Charleville Mezieres in the northeast and Avignon in the southeast.
The president, who is at the G20 summit in Argentina, said he understood the anger felt by voters outside France's big cities over the squeeze that fuel prices have put on households, but insisted he would not be bounced into changing policy by "thugs".
Philippe said there were 5,500 protesters in Paris and a combined 36,000 elsewhere in France. Police unions reported 582 road blockages.
"What message do the yellow vests want to pass today? That we set France on fire, or find solutions? I find this violence absurd," Jacline Mouraud, a prominent activist within the yellow vests movement, told BFM television.
But one retiree protester said: "The government is not listening. Revolution cannot happen without violence.