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France's 'yellow vest' protesters back on the streets, police respond with teargas

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Paris (AFP)

France's "yellow vest" protesters took to the streets on Saturday, for the 16th straight weekend, some clashing with police who responded with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon.

By 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) around 5,600 people had joined the protests throughout the country, most of them in the capital Paris, well down on the estimated 11,600 out on the streets at the same time last week, the interior ministry said.

In Paris on Saturday the protesters, among them leading "yellow vest" figures Eric Drouet and Maxime Nicolle, marched peacefully under police surveillance. Nine people had been arrested by early afternoon.

There was trouble, however, in Nice, Strasbourg, Lille and Nantes.

In the western city of Nantes police used teargas, rubber bullets and water cannon against protesters, some of whom hurled projectiles at them.

Teargas was also used elsewhere, including at protests in Bordeaux, Lyon, Morlaix and Arles.

This week's demonstrations had been billed by organisers as a prelude to a "big month" of protests to mark four months of the weekly action and the end of a major "national debate" championed by President Emmanuel Macron.

The "yellow vest" protests, which have no organised leadership, began on November 17 over increasing fuel taxes.

They quickly grew into a broader anti-government rebellion fuelled by anger towards Macron.

The protests have sometimes descended into violence and clashes between police and demonstrators.

Eleven people have died since the Saturday protests began.

"We are less numerous than normal, but we are still here... and we won't go away because the situation has not improved," said retired protester Murielle, who attended a demonstration east of Paris on Saturday.

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