PARIS: Clusters of anti-government activists in Paris repeatedly scuffled with police who responded with tear gas Saturday as supporters of France’s yellow vest protests tried to revive the movement opposed to President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.
In the morning, officers dispersed small crowds of demonstrators who tried to gather in central areas where police has banned protests this weekend. Most weren’t wearing the motorist safety vests that gave the movement its name.
Police in full anti-riot gear moved quickly and used tear gas on and around the Champs-Elysees avenue, a frequent location for protests after the first yellow vest demonstrations against fuel taxes started 10 months ago.
Environmental activists and a far-left workers union also had organized Saturday protests. France’s annual heritage weekend, a popular event when many cultural sites are open to the public, was also taking place.
Authorities deployed more than 7,000 officers and banned protests in a large central area including the presidential palace, government and parliament buildings, the Champs-Elysees, the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Paris police said at least 163 people had been arrested as of Saturday afternoon, and nearly 400 received 135-euro ($149) fines for demonstrating in a banned area.
The yellow vest movement emerged in November 2018 and swelled into weekly protests in Paris and other French cities that led to often-violent clashes between protesters and police. The demonstrations finally petered out this summer.
Macron made multiple concessions to the movement, including a 10 billion-euro package of measures to boost purchasing power. But anger is now mounting again over his plans to overhaul France’s costly, convoluted pension system.
Some of the anti-government protesters joined thousands of people at a south Paris march demanding urgent action to curb climate change. Officers ended up also using tear gas at that demonstration as well.
The atmosphere at the peaceful march grew tense when dozens of individuals dressed in black, many wearing masks and hoods, mixed in with the marchers. They broke windows at a bank and several shops, and set fire to a makeshift barricade and garbage in the street.
Police fired tear gas and sting-ball grenades several times.
Meanwhile, the far-left Workers Force union gathered thousands of protesters for a separate, peaceful march over concerns that government proposals will require people to work longer and reduce pensions.
Heritage weekend had Parisians and tourists lining up to visit landmarks and government buildings, including the Elysee presidential palace and Macron’s office. The public could only access the Elysee after pre-registering and passing security checks.
Some monuments, including the Arc de Triomphe that suffered damage during a yellow vest protest in December, were kept closed to the public. Authorities said they needed police to focus on the protests rather than securing the sites.