French police clash with protesters in Paris May Day rally

'Yellow vest' activists join traditional march in French capital to protest government's economic policies.

    Protesters wearing hoods, masks or yellow vests clashed with the police on Wednesday [Getty Images]
    Protesters wearing hoods, masks or yellow vests clashed with the police on Wednesday [Getty Images]

    Police have fired tear gas to push back masked demonstrators in central Paris, as thousands of people used an annual May Day rally to protest against French President Emmanuel Macron's economic policies.

    Labour unions and so-called "yellow vest" protesters were on the streets across France on Wednesday, days after Macron outlined a response to months of street protests that included tax cuts worth around five billion euros ($5.6bn).

    In the run-up to the main march in Paris, the city was on lockdown with more than 7,400 police deployed with orders from Macron to take an "extremely firm stance" if faced with violence. 

    Before the main rally took place, police tried to disperse a group of hooded and masked protesters who had converged at the front of the traditional May Day labour union march in Paris.

    Riot police repeatedly used tear gas and sting grenades to try to control the crowd gathering near Paris' Montparnasse train station. 

    Protesters wearing hoods or yellow vests responded by throwing projectiles at the police. Television footage showed a van with its windows smashed. Local media reports said some people were injured in the clashes.

    By mid-afternoon, the main march crossing the southern part of the capital was finally able to move amid relative calm.

    Nonetheless, it appeared that yellow vest protesters and more radical elements rather than labour unions were dominating the march, the Reuters news agency said. The hard-left General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union denounced police violence.

    "While the inter-union procession was to start at 14:30pm [12:30 GMT], unprecedented and indiscriminate repression took place following the acts of violence by some parties," the union said in a statement.

    It said union members, including the CGT secretary-general, had been tear-gassed, adding: "This current scenario, scandalous and unprecedented, is unacceptable in our democracy."

    Reporting from Paris, Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan said the police were taking a "robust" approach with protesters who deviated from the main route of the march.

    "That appears to be the main motivation for the police firing tear gas that we've seen fired," he said. "It ebbs and flows. The police move in, make a snatch arrest, fire some tear gas and then back off. It's very fluid."

    Before the May Day protests, there were calls on social media for far-left groups to hit the streets [Getty Images]


    Police warning

    French police had warned on Tuesday that there could be clashes with far-left anarchist groups, known as Black Blocs, after calls on social media for far-left groups to hit the streets.

    Authorities had said they expected some 2,000 Black Bloc protesters from France and across Europe to turn up on the sidelines of the traditional May Day union rallies. The police made 200 arrests on Wednesday, according to local media.

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    The yellow vest protests, named after the high-visibility jackets that they wear, began in November over fuel tax increases, but have evolved into a sometimes violent revolt against politicians and a government seen as out of touch.

    Many in the grassroots movement, which lacks a leadership structure, have said Macron's proposals do not go far enough and most of what he announced lacks detail.

    Thousands of people also demonstrated in cities from Marseille to Toulouse and Bordeaux. Some 300 yellow vest protesters tried to storm a police station in the Alpine town of Besancon.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies