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Scuffles and tear gas as riot police clamp down on Paris protest

World News | Published:

Large parts of the French capital are locked down.

Crowds of yellow-vested protesters have tried to reach the French presidential palace in Paris, some scuffling with police firing tear gas, amid huge security aimed at preventing a repeat of last week’s rioting.

Blue armoured vehicles beneath the Arc de Triomphe and rows of riot police blocked the demonstrators’ passage down the Champs-Elysees avenue towards the heart of presidential power.

A ring of steel surrounded the Elysee Palace as police stationed trucks and reinforced steel barriers in streets throughout the entire neighbourhood.

Prized Paris monuments and normally bustling shopping meccas were locked down at the height of the holiday shopping season as protesters condemned President Emmanuel Macron and France’s high taxes.

The Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum were among tourist attractions that remained closed, fearing damage after rioting and looting last Saturday that saw 130 people injured.

Police apprehend a demonstrator on the Champs Elysees
Police apprehend a demonstrator on the Champs Elysees (Thibault Camus/AP)

Mr Macron agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, but that has not defused the anger, embodied by the fluorescent safety vests French motorists are required to keep in their cars.

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While scattered scuffles broke out on Saturday around central Paris, the action seemed less violent overall at noon than at the same time a week ago, when crowds defaced the Arc de Triomphe, one of the city’s most revered monuments, and rampaged in the surrounding high-end neighbourhood.

After two weekends of violence in Paris that made the authorities look powerless to secure their capital, police went into overdrive on Saturday to keep a lid on unrest.

Police clash with demonstrators
Police clash with demonstrators (Thibault Camus/AP)

Protesters who travelled to Paris from Normandy described seeing officers block yellow-vested passengers from boarding at stops along their route.

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Police posted a video on Twitter of officers tackling a protester and confiscating his dangerous material, which appeared to be primarily a tennis racket.

An injured demonstrator is helped from the scene
An injured demonstrator is helped from the scene (Thibault Camus/AP)

Demonstrators waving French flags and wearing the movement’s signature high-visibility vests gathered before dawn on Saturday near the Arc de Triomphe, then tried to march down the Champs-Elysees towards the presidential palace.

Blocked by police, they tried other routes. Protesters threw flares and other projectiles, and were repeatedly pushed back by tear gas.

Groups in yellow vests also gathered near the Bastille plaza and a few other spots around Paris. The city subway system was shut down in the centre of town.

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron (Gustavo Garello/AP)

Authorities deployed barricade-busting armoured vehicles and 8,000 police in the capital alone. Nationwide, 89,000 security forces fanned out to deter or confront troublemakers expected at multiple protests.

Many members of the protest movement had called for calm, and some struck a conciliatory tone after meeting the prime minister on Friday night, but that did not deter many people from trying to march on the presidential palace.

Interior minister Christophe Castaner urged calm: “I ask the yellow vests that want to bring about a peaceful message to not go with the violent people. We know that the violent people are only strong because they hide themselves within the yellow vests, which hampers the security forces.”

Mr Macron has been largely invisible in recent days, leaving his prime minister and government to try to negotiate with protesters.

Christophe Castaner
Christophe Castaner (Thibault Camus/AP)

Parts of Paris looked like they were bracing for a hurricane, with boards on windows covering up the Christmas decorations. Police removed any materials from the streets that could be used as weapons, especially at construction sites in high-risk areas.

Protesters also blocked roads, roundabouts and tollbooths elsewhere in France. Offshoot movements have emerged elsewhere, and yellow-vest protests were held on Saturday in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Police detain a protestor in the European Quarter in Brussels
Police detain a protester in the European Quarter in Brussels (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

Police used pepper spray and scuffled with a small group of protesters who tried to break through their barricade blocking access to the European Parliament and the European Union’s other main institutions.

In the Dutch city of Rotterdam, a few hundred protesters in the high-visibility vests walked peacefully across the Erasmus Bridge singing and handing flowers to passers-by.

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