French po­lice fire tear gas to halt protests

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - News - BY AN­GELA CHARLTON AND JOHN LE­ICES­TER

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.

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