Yellow-vest violence grips Paris again

The police responded with teargas and water cannon but failed to disperse the more radical protesters. AFP  Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT

The police responded with teargas and water cannon but failed to disperse the more radical protesters. AFP Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT

Anti-government protesters hurled rocks and paving slabs at police, looted boutiques, smashed up a luxury restaurant on Paris's famed Champs-Elysées and set a bank on fire on Saturday.

Thirty-one people had been arrested by mid-morning, the police said.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said up to 8,000 demonstrators were in Paris on Saturday, including 1,500 "ultraviolent ones that are there to smash things up".

Protest organizers had hoped to make a splash Saturday, which marks the 4-month anniversary of yellow vest movement that started November 17.

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.

Protesters have promised to draw bigger numbers to mark the fourth month since the movement erupted in mid November, over since-scrapped fuel tax hikes and the high cost of living.

Rioters also set fire to an upmarket handbag store and two news-stands on the Champs Elysees avenue while scattered bonfires burned on the iconic thoroughfare.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon as the protests turned violent after weeks of relative calm, during which marches had attracted declining numbers of participants.

And the number of yellow vest protesters remains smaller than early in the movement, when it drew masses to the streets nationwide and polled showed a majority of French people supporting their cause.

Named after the high visibility vests French drivers have to keep in their cars and worn by protesters, the revolt swelled into a broader movement against Macron and his reforms.

The gourmet Fouquet's restaurant were among the premises vandalised. AFP  Thomas SAMSON
The gourmet Fouquet’s restaurant were among the premises vandalised. AFP Thomas SAMSON

Around half a million people turned out at townhall-style meetings held around the country over the past two months.

The yellow vest movement has faced accusations of anti-Semitism in recent weeks after a prominent Jewish philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was targeted by insults and taunts in Paris.

But for seven hours they continued to be pelted with paving stones by mostly black-clad demonstrators.

Protesters streamed into the capital by train and auto for a rally they called an "ultimatum" to the president.

Over 5 000 police were deployed, along with several armoured police vehicles, and several metro stations were closed.

Macron, who was caught off guard when grassroots protesters began occupying traffic roundabouts in November over fuel taxes, has loosened the state's purse strings to the tune of 10 billion euros ($11.2 billion) to try defuse the protests.

But the measures failed to quell the anger of the demonstrators, who accuse the former investment banker of being elitist and favouring the rich.

Macron cut short a weekend ski trip in the Pyrenees to return to the capital on Saturday night after the violence, the Elysees presidential palace said.

"We have been patient but now we want results", he said.

The protest was one of several planned in Paris on Saturday, where climate campaigners also gathered in their thousands to demand Macron go further on greening the economy.

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