French police fired tear gas and arrested over a 100 demonstrators as “yellow vest” protesters took to the streets of Paris against perceived economic injustice and President Emmanuel Macron‘s government.
Paris was placed under high security with about 7,500 police officers deployed, as hundreds of protesters – most not wearing the fluorescent vests that gave the movement its name – marched on Saturday.
Police in riot gear dispersed the protesters, using tear gas on and around the Champs-Elysees avenue, Saint-Lazare train station and Madeleine plaza – areas where protests were banned this weekend.
“What are we doing? We are assembling just to say that we can’t make ends meet. [The protest] is not only against the president, it’s against the system,” said a woman protester, who did not give her name.
“We are being treated like criminals,” said another woman, who only identified herself as Brigitte.
Paris police said at least 106 people were arrested.
The yellow vest protests coincided with a demonstration by climate activists and a separate march by the far-left Workers Force union against a planned retirement reform.
Masked demonstrators associated with the so-called “black bloc” anarchist movement infiltrated the climate demonstration, sporadically clashing with police throughout the day. The black-clad protesters also set fire to bins and a motorbike and threw paint over the front of a bank during the otherwise peaceful march.
Saturday also marked France’s annual heritage weekend, a popular event in which many cultural sites are open to the public.
While several locations remained accessible, other monuments, including the Arc de Triomphe, which had suffered damage during previous yellow vest protests, remained closed.
Macron on Friday called for “calm”, saying that while “it’s good that people express themselves”, they should not disrupt the climate protest and the other scheduled cultural events.
Key yellow vest figure Jerome Rodrigues billed Saturday’s protest as “a revelatory demonstration”.
The movement began in November last year, originally sparked by hikes in fuel taxes. The protests have since morphed into larger calls to end inequality, with anger growing in recent weeks over Macron’s plans to overhaul France’s costly, convoluted pension system.
But participation in the protests fell sharply by the spring, and only sporadic protests were seen over the summer.
The few hundred who marched in Paris on Saturday, and the coastal town of Nantes the previous week pale in comparison to the nearly 300,000 who demonstrated on November 17 last year.
Macron’s government has made multiple concessions since the movement began, including an $11bn package of measures to boost purchasing power for low-wage earners.
In an interview with Time magazine on Thursday, Macron said the movement had been “very good for me” as it made him listen and communicate better.
“My challenge is to listen to people much better than I did at the very beginning,” said the president, whose popularity has suffered in the wake of the unrest.