Violence on the Champs-Elysees as protesters rage against taxes, Macron
PARIS — Anti-government protesters clashed with French police on the ChampsElysees in Paris on Saturday, leaving the area cloaked in tear gas and smoke from fires on a fresh day of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.
Demonstrators wearing the yellow, high-visibility vests that symbolize their movement threw projectiles at police preventing them from moving along the famed shopping avenue, which was decked out in twinkling Christmas lights.
They also built barricades in some spots, and tore down traffic lights and street signs, creating riotous scenes reminiscent of France’s 1968 civil unrest, or street insurrections in the mid-19th century immortalized in paintings and movies.
Police arrested 130 people, 69 of those in Paris, and 24 people were injured, five of them police officers including one who suffered burns to his groin, the city police department and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.
Police said that dozens of protesters were detained for “throwing projectiles”, among other acts. By nightfall the Champs-Elysees was smoldering and in the Place de la Madeleine, burned scooters lay on the sidewalk like blackened shells.
Elsewhere, protesters took over highway toll booths to let traffic pass for free, or held go-slow vehicle processions, underlining one of their core complaints of escalating taxes on car fuel, especially diesel.
Macron, targeted by protesters’ calls that he resign, took to Twitter to thank police.
“Shame” on those who assaulted or intimidated citizens, journalists and politicians, Macron said. “There is no place for violence in the (French) Republic.”
Calm returned to the streets of the capital after midnight on Saturday, with the Champs-Elysees reopening to traffic.
The cleanup operation also got under way as garbage trucks were deployed and workers removed barricades along the famous avenue.
The violence was on a smaller scale than a week ago when the “yellow vest” movement staged its first nationwide protest.
“We’re not here to beat up cops. We came because we want the government to hear us,” said one protest spokeswoman, Laetitia Dewalle, 37, adding that the largely spontaneous movement denounced “violence by pseudo-protesters” on the fringes.
“We have just demonstrated peacefully, and we were teargassed,” said Christophe, 49, who traveled from the Isere region with his wife to protest in the capital.
The interior ministry counted 106,000 protesters across France on Saturday, with 8,000 in Paris, of whom around 5,000 were on the Champs-Elysees.
That was far less than the national tally of 282,000 in the Nov 17 protests.
The French government cast blame for the unruly protests on far-right politician Marine Le Pen, claiming she egged them on.
But Le Pen rejected that accusation, saying she had “never called for any violence whatsoever” and accused the government of seeking to make her a scapegoat.
A demonstrator stands amongst a burning makeshift barricade, set up on the famed Champs-Elysees avenue, during a protest against the rising of the fuel taxes, in Paris, France, on Saturday.