French police have fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to disperse “yellow-vest” protesters trying to breach security cordons on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris.
The clashes on Saturday broke out soon after hundreds of protesters wearing high-visibility yellow vests began gathering near the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the boulevard ahead of a third rally against diesel tax hikes and the high cost of living.
A big cloud of tear gas partially shrouded the famed monument as riot police closed in to push back the crowd, some of whom were hurling barricades and other projectiles at the officers.
Other protesters erected their own barricades and set them alight in some of the streets adjacent to the Champs Elysees. A car was also set ablaze.
At least 107 people were arrested during clashes by mid day, said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
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Meanwhile, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were present on the avenue inside a perimeter secured by police through identity checks and bag inspections.
Al Jazeera’s David Chater, reporting from the French capital, said police used hundreds of tear gas canisters to control the crowd.
“What the police are trying to do is search the protesters as they come into the Champs Elysee to remove any projectiles. At the moment, inside the avenue, it is very non-violent, very peaceful. We’ve heard from them one cry – Macron must resign,” he said from the protest scene.
“But outside, there are many people who are trying to break through the police lines and that’s where the clashes are.”
Philippe, the prime minister, said 36,000 people were protesting across France, including 5,500 in the capital.
The protests on Saturday come a week after violent clashes on the avenue last week, marked by burning barricades and vandalism which French President Emmanuel Macron compared to “war scenes”.
|Some protesters set fire to barricades and hurled projectiles at riot police [Stephane Mahe/ Reuters]|
Jacline Mouraud, a prominent activist, told BFM television she found the violence on Saturday “absurd”.
“What message do the yellow vests want to pass today? That we set France on fire, or find solutions?”
But a retired yellow-vest protester said: “The government is not listening. Revolution cannot happen without violence.”
Some 5,000 police and gendarmes were deployed in Paris amid concern that violent far-right and far-left groups were infiltrating the “yellow-vest” movement, according to officials.
Another 5,000 were deployed across France for other protests.
“We’re worried that small groups of rioters that aren’t yellow vests will infiltrate to fight security forces and challenge the authority of the state,” said Denis Jacob, Secretary General of the Alternative Police union.
In a post on Twitter, Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, said there were “1,500 agitators outside the security perimeter who came to fight” on Saturday.
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The first day of protests, on November 17, attracted around 282,000 people, while some 106,000 turned out last Saturday, including 8,000 in the capital.
The demonstrations include many pensioners and has been most active in small urban and rural areas where it has blocked roads, closed motorway toll booths, and even walled up the entrance to tax offices.
Two people have died and hundreds have been injured in the protests which opinion polls suggest still attract the support of two out of three French people.
Attempts by the government to negotiate with the movement have failed, in large part because representatives have insisted on public talks broadcast on TV.
Macron has sought to douse the anger by promising three months of nationwide talks on how best to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.
He also vowed to slow the rate of increase in fuel taxes if international oil prices rise too rapidly but only after a tax hike due in January.
But many protesters were unconvinced by Macron’s speech on Tuesday.
The anger has reached French overseas territories, especially on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
The minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, who was dispatched to the island to talk to protesters, was forced to cut short a meeting Friday with demonstrators after they booed her and shouted “Macron, resign!”
The movement has spilled across to neighbouring Belgium, where riot police used water cannon Friday to disperse stone-throwing “yellow vest” protesters who burned two police vehicles in the centre of Brussels.