Violence flares in Paris as more than 900 charged over protests

Barricade of burning rubbish bins built as ‘yellow vests’ demonstrate

Police fired tear gas canisters at “yellow vest” protesters in central Paris on Saturday during a demonstration against the high cost of living. Video: Reuters

 

Numerous violent incidents broke out in Paris on Saturday during the fourth weekly demonstration by gilets jaunes protesters wearing yellow high visibility security vests.

The government deployed a record 89,000 security forces, including police and para-military gendarmerie in armoured vehicles. The interior ministry said 125,000 people demonstrated across France, including 8,000 in Paris. The protesters accused “corrupt media” of underestimating their numbers.

By 5.30pm, 1,385 people had been arrested in the Paris region, of whom 920 were charged, mostly for “participation in a group which is preparing violence against persons or property.” The injured came to 171, including three police and gendarmes. The ministry of justice estimated the numbers demonstrating nationwide at 125,000.

The violent casseurs or vandals who have infiltrated the movement burned tyres, cars and vegetation in the streets and smashed windows. Some looting was reported near the Gare Montparnasse. The Place de l’Étoile, where the Arc de Triomphe was covered with graffiti one week earlier, was the epicentre of the violence.

While riot police held the area immediately around the triumphal arch, protesters seized plywood panels used to protect shopfronts and advanced behind them as shields. They attacked Le Drugstore at the top of the Champs-Élysées.

Rioters on the nearby Avenue de Friedland built a barricade of burning rubbish bins. Scuffles occurred near the Parc Monceau and the Gare St Lazare. Gendarmes were equipped with armoured personnel carriers for the purpose of breaking down barricades.

The big department stores on the boulevard Haussmann were closed, as were many cultural and tourist sites, including the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Orsay and Grand Palais museums. Forty-five metro and suburban RER train stations in central Paris were shut down.

A demonstrator throws a tear gas canister during the demonstration of the yellow vests at the Arc de Triomphe. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
A demonstrator throws a tear gas canister during the demonstration of the yellow vests at the Arc de Triomphe. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
A protester holds the French flag as he walks with others wearing yellow vests. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters
A protester holds the French flag as he walks with others wearing yellow vests. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Numerous football matches, Christmas markets and other events have been cancelled because of the riots.

Security forces formed an impenetrable barrier around the approaches to the Élysée Palace, at the bottom of the Champs Élysée. “Macron is in there,” said Benoit, a 31-year-old management consultant who had returned home from London to join the protests, gesturing beyond the phalanx of police towards the Élysée.

“He gets €20,000 a month and he doesn’t have any rent or bills to pay while people are croaking…It’s not right to have poverty in such a rich country.”

Police frisked pedestrians every few hundred metres, confiscating goggles and items that could be used as weapons. A ski pole lay on the ground in a street near the Eiffel Tower where the windows of cars, shops and restaurants had been smashed in.

Many of the yellow vests brandished French tricolours. The marches began on November 17th in protest at new carbon taxes on petrol and diesel, but quickly expanded to a broader expression of anger at sinking purchasing power and standards of living. Four people were killed in earlier demonstrations.

The interior minister Christophe Castaner urged calm: “I ask the yellow vests who want to bring about a peaceful outcome not to support the violent people. We know the violent people are only strong because they hid themselves within the yellow vests, which hampers the security forces,” he said.

Other movements have latched on to the distress of the working poor to exploit them politically, including extreme left and extreme right-wing anti-EU factions.

President Emmanuel Macron agreed to cancel the fuel price hikes, but the protests continue and demonstrators yesterday spoke of renewed marches in coming weeks. Demonstrators demand the re-establishment of the wealth tax abandoned by Macron in 2017, early elections and even Macron’s resignation.

The president will speak at the beginning of next week, his close ally, Richard Ferrand, the speaker of the National Assembly said. Macron did not express himself before Saturday’s demonstrations so as not to “pour oil on the flames,” Mr Ferrand said.