French police fire tear gas to halt protests
French riot police fired tear gas and water cannons in Paris on Saturday, trying to stop thousands of yellow-vested protesters from converging on the presidential palace to express their anger at high taxes and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Security officials imposed a lockdown on parts of central Paris, determined to prevent a repeat of the rioting a week ago that damaged a major monument, injured 130 people and tarnished the country’s global image.
Blue armored vehicles rumbled across cobblestone streets from the Arc de Triomphe across toward eastern Paris as scattered demonstrations spread around the city. Police were mounted on horses and surrounded protesters with trained dogs. A ring of steel surrounded the Elysee Palace itself, as police stationed trucks and reinforced steel barriers in streets throughout the entire neighborhood.
Associated Press reporters witnessed multiple protesters hurt in Saturday’s clashes with police. Paris police said 30 people were injured, including three police officers. An AP video journalist was wounded in the leg as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on the Champs-Elysees.
Some stores along the Champs-Elysee had boarded up their windows with plywood, making the neighborhood appear like it was bracing for a hurricane. Angry protesters on Saturday tried to rip the boards off.
Protesters threw flares and other projectiles and set fires but were repeatedly pushed back by tear gas and water cannon. By midafternoon, more than 700 people had been stopped and questioned, and more than 400 were being held in custody, according to a Paris police spokeswoman.
Despite the repeated skirmishes, Saturday’s anti-government protests appeared less chaotic and violent than a week ago, when crowds defaced the Arc de Triomphe, set vehicles ablaze and looted high-end stores in the city’s worst rioting since 1968.
Prized Paris monuments and normally bustling shopping meccas were locked down Saturday at the height of the holiday shopping season. The Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum were among the many tourist attractions that closed for the day, fearing damages amid a new round of protests. Subway stations in the center of town were shut down.
The yellow vest movement – named after the fluorescent outerwear French drivers must keep in their vehicles – started as a protest against higher taxes for diesel and gas, but quickly expanded to encompass wide frustration at stagnant incomes, the rising cost of living and other grievances.
Macron on Wednesday agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, which aimed to wean France off fossil fuels and uphold the Paris climate agreement, but that hasn’t defused the anger.
After two weekends of violence in Paris that made the authorities look powerless, police went into overdrive Saturday to keep a lid on unrest. Police frisked people or searched bags throughout central Paris, and confiscated gas masks and protective goggles from AP journalists.
Protesters who came to Paris from Normandy described seeing officers block yellow-vested passengers from boarding public transportation at stops along their route. The national gendarme service posted a video on Twitter of police tackling a protester and confiscating his dangerous material, which appeared to be primarily a tennis racket.