Published: Sun, March 17, 2019

Yellow Vest protests erupt in Paris as cops use water cannon

Yellow Vest protests erupt in Paris as cops use water cannon

Saturday's turnout is a test for the "yellow vest" movement, which began in November over fuel tax hikes and quickly ballooned into a anti-government rebellion but has struggled lately to mobilise large numbers of protesters.

Cobblestones flew in the air and smoke from fires set by protesters mingled with clouds of tear gas sprayed by police, as tensions continued for hours along the Champs-Elysees.

Protesters ransacked Fouquet's brasserie, a popular eatery amongst politicians and celebrities, overturning chairs and tables and smashing windows.

Around half a million people turned out at townhall-style meetings held around the country, but many "yellow-vest" protesters dismissed the consultation as a smokescreen.

It's also associated with former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who celebrated his 2007 election victory in Fouquet's - drawing criticism for his choice of such a flashy locale.

Anti-government protesters hurled rocks and paving slabs at police, looted boutiques, smashed up a luxury restaurant on Paris's famed Champs-Elysées and set a bank on fire on Saturday.

The movement, started initially as a protest against a proposed fuel tax, has expanded to become a protest against the inequality of French society as well as taking in anti-migrant groups.

The interior ministry estimated 10,000 people had participated in the protest in Paris, compared with 2,800 the previous Saturday.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is vowing to "severely punish" the radicals responsible for rioting and setting fires around one of France's richest neighborhoods.

Later, the water cannon unleashed bursts from a side street to try to push protesters back.

Black-clad demonstrators encircled the square surrounding the arch, pelting the police with stones.

A barricade burns on the Champs Elysees avenue during yellow-vest protests on Saturday in Paris.

The police on Saturday used tear gas and water cannon to repel protesters who gathered at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe war memorial, which was sacked by protesters on December 1 in scenes that drew worldwide condemnation.

One perilous fire targeted a bank on the ground floor of a seven-storey residential building.

But the yellow vest numbers paled beside the 30,000 people taking part in a climate march weaving through Paris at the same time, according to Castaner.

Eleven people in the building, including two firefighters, sustained light injuries, as other residents were evacuated to safety.

Eighty-two people had been arrested by the early afternoon, the police said.

Saudi Arabia's embassy in France has advised Saudi citizens to avoid the Champs-Elysées area and areas surrounding it due to the "yellow vest" protests.

Several protesters smiled as they posed for a photo in front of one the kiosk's charred remains.

The violence comes after a two-month national debate that Macron organized to respond to protesters' concerns about sinking living standards, high unemployment, stagnant wages and general income inequality.

The violence started minutes after the protesters gathered Saturday, when they threw smoke bombs and other objects at officers along the Champs-Elysees - the scene of repeated past rioting - and started pounding on the windows of a police van.

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