French police arrested more than 500 people Saturday morning as 1,500 protesters descended on Paris’ Champs-Elysees Boulevard
Over 89,000 police were deployed across France on Saturday, 8,000 of them centred in Paris. Riot police fired tear gas into raging crowds of yellow-vested protesters in central Paris, and blue armoured vehicles lined the Arc de Triomphe.
Over 300 people remain in custody after police found potential weapons, including hammers, baseball bats and metal petanque balls on them.
“We have prepared a robust response,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told online news site Brut. He called on peaceful protesters not to get mixed up with “hooligans.”
“The troublemakers can only be effective when they disguise themselves as yellow vests. Violence is never a good way to get what you want. Now is the time for discussion,” he said.
The “yellow-vest” protests, named after the high-visibility safety jackets French motorists have to keep in their cars, erupted in November over the squeeze on household budgets caused by fuel taxes.
After several weekends of violent protests, demonstrators used social media to bill this weekend as “Act IV” in a series of challenges to French President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe pleaded with the public for restraint.
“We will do all we can so that today can be a day without violence, so that the dialogue that we started this week can continue in the best possible circumstances,” he said on French television.
On Tuesday, Philippe announced the government was suspending planned increases to fuel taxes for at least six months to help defuse weeks of protests, the first U-turn by Macron since he came to power 18 months ago, though protesters have continued to demand more concessions.
According to Reuters, many shops were boarded up Saturday to avoid looting and street furniture and construction site materials have been removed to prevent them from being used as projectiles. Tourists were few and far between, and residents were advised to stay indoors.
Armed police vehicles were seen breaking up makeshift barricades in the upmarket shopping district around Boulevard Haussmann, where supermarkets were looted and several cars were set on fire.
Several news outlets have reported that protesters have begun ransacking local shops. BFMTV is reporting an attempt to loot the well-known Drugstore brasserie on Champs-Elysees.
According to one AFP reporter, protesters have begun ripping down the wooden hoarding that shops have put up to protest their stores from rioters, and setting fire to it. F
U.S. President Donald Trump also tweeted about the protests in Paris on Saturday morning, taking a jab at the Paris climate agreement at the same time.
“The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third-world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting ‘We Want Trump!’ Love France,” the tweet read.
Several reporters have denied that rioters are shouting “we want Trump.”
“Yellow-vest” demonstrations spread to other parts of Europe Saturday as well, including Belgium and the Netherlands.
As the protests have continued to escalate, Macron has remained silent.
–With files from the Associated Press and Reuters.
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