PARIS • French police fired tear gas and arrested hundreds of people in Paris yesterday as protests by the "yellow vests" movement began again across the French capital, a week after extremely violent clashes prompted President Emmanuel Macron's government to back down on fuel tax increases.
An estimated 31,000 people joined the anti-government protests, Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said, adding that 700 people had been detained.
"At the national level, including Paris, we're at more than 700 detained with participation in the movement at 31,000 nationwide including 8,000 in Paris," he told France 2 television.
Some of the arrests occurred early yesterday as police conducted searches ahead of the protests, seeking to prevent rioting. Tens of thousands of officers have been deployed to control the protests.
"We'll make sure this day may unfold in the best possible way," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.
Police found hammers, gas masks and petanque balls during the searches, Ms Johanna Primevert, a spokesman for the police prefecture, said in an interview with BFM TV. "People have well understood that if they want to demonstrate peacefully, they have to submit to these checks," she said.
So far, the protests were mostly on and near the landmark Avenue des Champs-Elysees, with about 1,500 protesters, according to France Info radio.
NOT HERE TO SMASH THINGS
We have come here for a peaceful march, not to smash things. We want equality, we want to live, not survive.
MR GUILLAUME LE GRAC, a protester who works in a slaughterhouse in the town of Guingamp in Britanny.
Several hundred also were protesting around the Bastille square, in eastern Paris, while others attempted to block traffic on a western section of the Paris ring road, known as the "Peripherique".
Police used tear gas shortly before 10.30am local time to clear a dead-end street near the Champs-Elysees where protesters in yellow vests were pouring in, images on BFM TV showed. That was the first use of the crowd-control measure of the day, the broadcaster said.
Images also showed some protesters throwing objects at the police near the Champs-Elysees.
Many shops were boarded up to prevent looting and street furniture and construction site materials have been removed to prevent them from being used as projectiles.
"We have come here for a peaceful march, not to smash things. We want equality, we want to live, not survive," said 28-year-old Guillaume Le Grac who works in a slaughterhouse in the town of Guingamp in Britanny.
France is bracing itself for a fourth weekend of nationwide protests. They began last month to fight higher petrol taxes and have now spread to other demands, reflecting complaints about purchasing power and a general dislike of Mr Macron.
After the President last week retreated by cancelling a fuel tax increase planned for January, members of his government and even some members of opposition parties had called on the yellow vests to ignore calls for fresh protests after demonstrations on Dec 1 and 2 led to widespread vandalism and car burnings across Paris.
"The movement has given birth to a monster," Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Friday as he detailed security measures at a news conference. "Everything leads us to believe that rioters will try to mobilise again."
After being taken by surprise by the scale of last weekend's violence, Paris prepared by closing many museums, asking shops on the Champs-Elysees to shutter, and postponing yesterday's Paris Saint-Germain-Montpellier football match. The Eiffel Tower as well as iconic department store Galeries Lafayette are closed for the day.
More than 89,000 officers have been deployed across the country to maintain order including 8,000 in Paris - where demonstrators a week ago torched cars, fought with riot police and vandalised the Arc de Triomphe. Police in the capital will be backed up by a dozen armoured vehicles.
"If you are not aggressive, we will not be aggressive," a masked policeman said yesterday as a protester stuck yellow plastic flowers onto policemen.
The grassroots movement - named after the vests that all motorists must keep in their cars - has led to sporadic blockades of roads, fuel depots and warehouses since the first "day of action" Nov 17.
It is organised through social media and has no leadership, but has the support of three-quarters of the French public, polls show.
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE