Hundreds arrested as police clash with 'Yellow Vest' protesters in Paris
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Protesters angry about rising fuel taxes clashed with French police for a third straight weekend and scores were arrested after demonstrators built barricades in central Paris, lit fires and threw rocks at officers Saturday.
According to figures released by French interior ministry, around 75,000 demonstrators took to the streets across France today in the anti-Macron protests.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said earlier on Saturday that "1,500 troublemakers" were around the Champs-Elysées avenue, outside a perimeter secured by police, who said that 378 people were arrested in Paris.
Protesters, including some wearing black hoodies, piled up large plywood planks and other material in the middle of a street near the Arc de Triomphe, and set the debris on fire.
At least 133 people have been injured, including 23 police officers. French authorities have drafted thousands of extra police officers into Paris.
"We are in a state of insurrection, I've never seen anything like it," said Jeanne d'Hauteserre, the mayor of Paris' 8th district, near the Arc de Triomphe.
Iconic department stores evacuated
Meanwhile demonstrators have stolen an assault rifle from a police van in central Paris, according to police sources. At least 19 Paris metro stations have been shut due to the unrest, French TV news channel BFMTV has reported.
Paris’s Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores have been evacuated because of the violence linked, while firemen were called to put out a fire at a building near the Champs-Elysées, according to a Reuters witness.
Protesters also smashed the windows of shops including branches of Chanel, Dior and Apple.
Police fired tear gas to try to push back the protesters around the monument, and used water cannons near Champs-Elysées avenue. Some demonstrators responded by throwing large rocks.
In addition to rising taxes, demonstrators are furious about President Emmanuel Macron's leadership. A demonstration last weekend in Paris also turned violent. "I will always listen to opposition, but I will never accept violence," Macron said at press conference at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on Saturday evening.
The protests, which began with motorists demonstrating against a fuel tax hike, now involve a broad range of demands related to the country's high cost of living.
The skirmishes in Paris broke out early on Saturday, amid concern that violent far-right and far-left groups were infiltrating the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests) movement. Rioters and peaceful protesters mixed together after police cordoned off the Champs-Elysees, forcing them into adjacent streets.
Demonstrators put up barricades in the surrounding areas, smashed some car windows and set alight dozens of vehicles, including a police car.
Clashes also broke out in other cities and towns including Nantes in the west, Toulouse and Tarbes in the southwest, Puy-en-Velay in the centre of the country, Charleville Mezieres in the northeast and Avignon in the southeast. Protesters set the headquarters of the local authorities of the southern Haute-Loire region on Saturday evening.
Heavy goods vehicles blocked the road to Nice airport, a Reuters witness said.
For his part, Philippe has cancelled a planned trip to Poland on Monday for a climate change conference, in light of Saturday's violence.
Last week, French authorities said 8,000 people demonstrated on the Champs-Elysées avenue. Some of the protesters torched barriers and plywood boards. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to push back angry demonstrators.
Since the protests kicked off Nov. 17, two people were killed and hundreds injured in accidents stemming from the protests since they kicked off Nov. 17, and hundreds of protesters and police have been injured.
Failed attempt to placate protesters
French President Emmanuel Macron has sought to douse the anger by promising three months of nationwide talks on how best to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.
He also vowed to slow the rate of increase in fuel taxes if international oil prices rise too rapidly but only after a tax hike due in January.
On Friday, the government tried -- mostly in vain -- to talk to representatives of the "Yellow Vest" movement.
Philippe invited eight representatives to join him in his office. But only two turned up, and one walked out after being told he could not invite TV cameras in to broadcast the encounter.
Emerging from an hour of talks, Philippe said they mainly discussed spending power and that his door was "always open" for further dialogue.
One of the chief difficulties faced by the government in talking to protesters is their reluctance to appoint leaders.
The movement, organised through social media, has steadfastly refused to align with any political party or trade union.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)