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Friday 18 October 2019

Police use tear gas on the Champs-Elysees, but fewer Paris protesters

By early evening, police had cleared the avenue and re-opened it to traffic.

Police secure the Champs-Elysees avenue (Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)
Police secure the Champs-Elysees avenue (Kamil Zihnioglu/AP)

By Raphael Satter and Elena Becatoros, Associated Press

Police used tear gas on the Champs-Elysees after a day of largely peaceful demonstrations in Paris on the fifth straight weekend of protests by France’s “yellow vest” movement.

The demonstrations against France’s high cost of living — hit by cold weather, rain and recent concessions by French President Emmanuel Macron — were significantly smaller on Saturday than at previous rallies, some of which scarred parts of Paris with vandalism and looting.

A few thousand people marched up and down the famed shopping street in Paris, a spirited yet peaceful gathering that sunk into violence as the afternoon wore on.

Riot police clashed with demonstrators as the occasional tourist darted from their hotel or a brave Christmas shopper took a peek at the neighbourhood’s mostly boarded-up storefronts.

By late afternoon, a water cannon in a line of police vans confronting protesters sprayed water to disperse them.

Firefighters put out a blaze on a side street leading to the Champs-Elysees and limited scuffles broke out between protesters and police.

By early evening, police had cleared the avenue and re-opened it to traffic.

Protesters made it clear that they wanted to keep up the pressure, even if their numbers were far smaller than in previous weeks, which saw rioters smashing and looting stores and setting up burning barricades in the streets.

A police water cannon sprays water on demonstrators (Michel Euler/AP)

French law enforcement was out in force. About 8,000 police and 14 armoured vehicles were deployed in Paris for the demonstration, and streets of central Paris were honeycombed with checkpoints where officers in riot gear checked bags and coats for weapons.

Police said 115 people were taken into custody in Paris, most for banding together to commit acts of violence, and a small number were injured.

Police in riot gear tackled one protester and dragged him off the Champs-Elysees, while his friends said he was doing nothing but exercising right to protest.

The yellow vest movement, which takes its name from the fluorescent safety vests French motorists must have in their vehicles, has been fuelled by a sense that Macron’s government is hurting ordinary workers and retirees with too many taxes.

Without any clear leadership, it has attracted a wide range of disgruntled people across France’s political spectrum, including some violent militants.

Yellow vest protests were also being held in other parts of France, blocking roads and highways.

The number of deaths linked to the protest rose to seven after Belgian police said a man accidentally crashed his car on Friday night into a truck that had stalled at a yellow vest roadblock on the French-Belgian border.

PA Media

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