French yellow vest protesters clash with police in Paris

AFP Photo

French police fired tear gas and arrested dozens on Saturday in clashes with protesters as the yellow vest movement sought to inject new impetus into its four-month old revolt against President Emmanuel Macron and his pro-business reforms. Protesters threw cobblestones at riot police through clouds of tear gas in front of Paris' Arc de Triumphed monument, which was ransacked at the peak of the protests in December. Bonfires were started in nearby streets, with at least one car in flames.

French yellow vest protesters clashed Saturday with riot police near the Arc de Triomphe and vandalized luxury stores as they kicked off their 18th straight weekend of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.

The violence started when protesters threw smoke bombs and other objects at officers along the Champs-Elysees — scene of repeated past rioting — and started pounding on the windows of a police van. Riot police then retreated, with protesters kicking the side of the large truck.

Later, water cannon unleashed bursts from a side street to try to push back protesters clustered between a Cartier boutique and a Mont Blanc store.

Police fired tear gas that spread across the cobblestone street surrounding the Arc de Triomphe. A fire was set outside a sandwich store on the Champs-Elysees, and a burning vehicle was seen next to luxury boutique Kenzo nearby. Boutiques including luxury brand Lacoste were smashed up, and mannequins thrown out of the broken windows. An eatery called Fouquet's, which is popular with politicians and celebrities, was vandalized.

Paris police told The Associated Press that 44 people were arrested by midday. Bracing for a potential uptick in protester numbers and violence, the French capital deployed more police Saturday than in previous weekends. Police closed down several streets and fanned out around the Right Bank.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner ordered police to retaliate against "inadmissible" acts, and condemned those who "call for violence and are here to sow chaos in Paris."

After dwindling numbers in recent weekends, protesters are hoping their latest day of action can breathe new life into their movement against a president seen as favoring the elite.

Yellow vest groups representing teachers, unemployed people and labor unions were among those that organized dozens of rallies and marches Saturday in the capital and around France.

The actions mark the end of a two-month national debate that Macron organized to respond to protesters' concerns.

Protesters dismiss the debate as empty words and a campaign ploy by Macron for European Parliament elections in May. They are angry over high taxes and Macron policies seen as coddling the business world.

"Those who participated in this great debate are mostly retirees and upper middle class, meaning Macron's electorate, even though we understood this great national debate was supposed to respond to the yellow vest crisis," lawyer and yellow vest protester Francois Boulo told Europe-1 radio.

In their online appeal for Saturday's protests, organizers said they wanted the day to serve as an "ultimatum" to "the government and the powerful."

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