France: Police use tear gas, arrest scores at yellow vest protest

Clashes in Paris as demonstrators set fire to motorbikes and rubbish cans on 23rd Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

    A man bangs a drum in front of a fire on the street during a yellow vest demonstration in Paris [Michel Euler/AP]
    A man bangs a drum in front of a fire on the street during a yellow vest demonstration in Paris [Michel Euler/AP]

    Clashes have broken out between Yellow Vest protesters and police in the French capital, Paris, as demonstrators took to the streets for a 23rd week of marches against economic inequality and President Emmanuel Macron's government. 

    Dozens of black-hooded demonstrators threw rocks at police and some set fire to motorbikes and rubbish cans along the march route on Saturday, prompting the police to use water cannon, stun grenades and tear gas. 

    Paris police said authorities detained 137 people by early afternoon and carried out spot checks on more than 14,000 people trying to enter the capital for the protests.

    As of 12:00 GMT on Saturday, a total of 9,600 people were demonstrating across France, including 6,700 in the capital, the interior ministry said.

    This is more than last week's protest, which drew 7,500 demonstrators, but represents only a fraction of the record 282,000 estimated on the first day of protests on November 17.

    The demonstrations originally began over fuel price increases and high cost of living, but spiralled into a broader movement against Macron and his economic policies, which protesters say favour the wealthy and big business at the expense of ordinary workers.

    The protest movement is largely peaceful, but some protesters have attacked monuments, shops and banks and clashed with police in previous weeks. 

    Riot police drag a protester during a demonstration of the yellow vests movement in Paris [Yves Herman/Reuters]

    On Saturday, the French capital was on high alert after Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, said domestic intelligence services had informed him of a potential return of rioters intent on wreaking havoc in Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier and Bordeaux, in a repeat of violent protests on March 16.

    Large portions of the Paris metro network were closed and about 60,000 police were deployed across France, authorities said.

    'What about for us, the poor?'

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    Several demonstrators in Paris clearly alluded to the catastrophic fire at the Notre Dame cathedral on Monday, which prompted an outpouring of national sorrow and a rush by rich families and corporations to pledge around one billion euros ($1.12 billion) for its reconstruction.

    "Millions for Notre Dame, what about for us, the poor?" read a sign worn by a demonstrator.

    Jose Fraile, a protester, told The Associated Press news agency: "I think what happened at Notre Dame is a great tragedy but humans should be more important than stones. And if humans had a little bit more money, they too could help finance the reconstruction work at Notre Dame. I find this disgusting."

    Police headquarters reported 126 arrests and 11,000 checks on individual protesters [Yves Herman/Reuters]

    Macron had been scheduled to lay out his responses to Yellow Vest concerns on Monday night - but cancelled the speech because the Notre Dame fire broke out. He's now expected to do so next Thursday.

    Police also fired tear gas in the city of Toulouse, where thousands of people were demonstrating, including hundreds of motorbikers holding a large banner asking for Macron's resignation.

    There were about 1,500 to 2,000 people demonstrating in the streets of Bordeaux, according to Reuters.

    SOURCE: News agencies