French police fire tear gas at protesters in central Paris

Police fired tear gas canisters and pepper spray at ‘yellow vest’ protesters in central Paris on Saturday during a demonstration against the high cost of living.

A police spokesperson told reporters there were about 1,500 protesters on the Champs Elysees and authorities said 211 people had been placed under arrest after police found weapons such as hammers, baseball bats and metal petanque balls on them.

About 89,000 police officers have been deployed across the country. Of these, about 8,000 have been deployed in the capital city to avoid a repeat of last Saturday’s mayhem, when rioters torched cars and looted shops off the Champs Elysees boulevard, and defaced the Arc de Triomphe monument with graffiti directed at President Emmanuel Macron.

The Eiffel Tower and other tourist landmarks in Paris were shut on Saturday, shops were boarded up to avoid looting and street furniture removed to prevent metal bars from being used as projectiles.

Macron’s government has warned that the protests will be hijacked by “radicalised and rebellious” crowds and become the most dangerous yet, after three weeks of demonstrations.

The president had announced earlier this week that the planned hikes in petrol and diesel taxes, which sparked the protests, would be cancelled outright.

But prominent protesters have said they will descend on Paris anyway, with a broader set of economic demands, including lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy costs, better retirement provisions and even Macron’s resignation.

“We just had Interior Minister Christophe Castaner himself who came along to talk to the riot police. He no doubt reassured them that today they will not run out of tear gas reserves like they did last Saturday,” Al Jazeera’s David Chater said, reporting from Paris.

“Police forces are determined to make sure that the violent scenes aren’t repeated, but I don’t think they can guarantee that, because there are so many people here… everybody is converging on this area, and they’re aiming at the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees,” Chater added.

Protesters, using social media, have billed the weekend as “Act IV” in a dramatic challenge to Macron and his government’s policies.

Castaner said that he expects radical elements to be present in Paris and that “the past three weeks have given birth to a monster that has escaped its creators”.

But protesters believe they are fighting for a fair cause.

“There is a rising of the people’s rage and it’s caused by a single reason – the government’s policies that only look to take from the poor to keep for the rich,” Taha Bouhafs, an activist in Paris, told Al Jazeera.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Friday evening met a delegation of self-described “moderate” yellow vest protesters who have urged people not to join the protests.

After the meeting, a spokesperson of the movement, Christophe Chalencon, said Philippe had “listened to us and promised to take our demands to the president”.

“Now we await Mr Macron. I hope he will speak to the people of France as a father, with love and respect and that he will take strong decisions,” he said.


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