PARIS-AFP: Groups of masked protesters battled police through clouds of tear gas near Paris’ Champs Elysees Saturday as thousands took part in a third weekend of “yellow vest” demonstrations, which have morphed from anger over fuel taxes into a broader anti-government movement.
The violence broke out early after crowds began gathering at the Arc de Triomphe, where they found the Champs Elysees on lockdown by police manning barricades and water cannons.
While several dozen protesters were allowed to pass after an ID check and search, many others, often wearing gas masks or ski goggles, remained behind and fought with police, who responded with rounds of tear gas.
Demonstrators, some wielding slingshots, threw rocks, construction barricades and even paint at police in protective gear and helmets, with some officers seen spattered with yellow liquid.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, visiting the Paris police’s command centre, said at least 107 people were arrested in Paris among the estimated 5,500 protesters. Some 8,000 were counted in the city last Saturday.
Ten people were injured, including three of the 5,000 police officers mobilised in Paris, junior interior minister Laurent Nunez told BFM television.
An acrid odour of tear gas and smoke from burning cars and trash containers filled the air in the areas near the clashes.
Stores and restaurants along the famous avenue as well as surrounding streets had boarded up windows, anticipating a repeat of the clashes last Saturday which President Emmanuel Macron compared to “war scenes”.
Chantal, a 61-year-old pensioner who came from an eastern Paris suburb, said she was avoiding the “hooligans” but was determined to send President Emmanuel Macron a message on the rising costs of living.
“He has to come down off his pedestal,” she said under cold rain on the Champs Elysees. “Every month I have to dip into my savings.”
Although police managed to clear the square around the Arc de Triomphe toward midday, cat-and-mouse skirmishes continued as protesters spread out to nearby streets and neighbourhoods.
News channels showed burning barricades on several streets, and protesters lobbing paving stones and other items at police trucks.
Across the country some 36,000 people took part in mainly peaceful protests against a surge in fuel prices this year, which they attribute to a series of tax increases to finance the government’s anti-pollution efforts.