Dozens arrested after pro-Palestine demonstrators defy Paris ban
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Tear gas and the acrid smoke from burning cars filled the air above Paris as pro-Palestinian demonstrators, protesting against Israel's assault on Gaza, clashed with police in the French capital on Saturday.
The fiercest confrontations appeared to be around the Barbès area in northern Paris, where cars were set alight and some demonstrators hurled rocks and other objects at the security forces.
Police responded with volleys of tear gas and occasional charges on the crowd. Security forces in civilian clothing were also seen wielding batons and using pepper spray against protesters.
A total of 38 protesters were arrested for violence against officers of the law or for "throwing projectiles", police said, adding that 14 officers were injured in the clashes.
City officials had imposed a ban on the demonstration after a similar protest had descended into violence earlier in the week, including the attempted storming of two synagogues in the centre of Paris.
But the presence of dozens of riot vans and police in body armour in the hours before the demonstration had been due to begin, suggested they were not expecting many to heed the warnings to stay away.
And so it proved. Protesters began gathering outside the Barbès-Rochechouart metro station shortly before 3pm at first just a few hundred, but their numbers quickly swelled, reaching around 3,000 in total.
Waving Palestinian flags and anti-Israeli placards, chants of "Israel! Criminal!" and "Zionists, fascists, you are the terrorists," quickly sprung up from among the demonstrators, while a handful of protesters clambered to the top of scaffolding on a nearby building to burn the Israeli flag, to cheers from the crowd.
'I came to defy the ban'
Though there was plenty of passion, the protests started peacefully. But as the numbers of demonstrators increased, so did the tension.
They had originally planned to march towards Opéra in central Paris, but were prevented from doing so by the police, further adding to protesters' anger.
As well as the main clashes at Barbès, there were scuffles in the surrounding streets as the demonstrators sought alternative routes away from the area.
Scenes of panic played out as demonstrators tried to flee down side streets to escape police tear gas, often finding the path blocked by security forces.
"France is the only country that has banned a pro-Palestinian demonstration. I came today to defy this unfair and illegitimate ban," said a protester named Boudgema, 30, who travelled from Rouen in northern France to take part in the demonstration.
He said there was no anti-Jewish sentiment among the protesters, just anger at the Israeli state.
"We distinguish between Zionists and Jews," he said.
Others took issue with what the way the media had portrayed the protesters in previous demonstrations.
"Media coverage of pro-Palestinian demonstrations is disproportionate," said 27-year-old Jeremy Durand, himself of Jewish origin.
"I do not support the fact that Israeli flags were burned, but unfortunately this is what the media will remember. It is transforming it into a racial conflict."
By mid-evening, some protesters had managed to reach Montmartre's famed Sacré-Cœur basilica a popular tourist spot to hang banners reading "Palestine Will Live'' and "Israel Assassins''.
However, by this time many had begun to disperse and relative calm was once again restored, though smaller groups continued protesting into the evening.
Authorised demonstrations also went ahead on Saturday in around 15 towns and cities around France.