'Yellow vest' protesters clash with French police

Protesters being sprayed with tear gas by the police on the Champs-Elysees. The avenue was on lockdown, with riot police manning barricades and water cannons. Demonstrators in yellow vests, which have become a symbol of the protest against President
Demonstrators in yellow vests, which have become a symbol of the protest against President Emmanuel Macron, clashing with French riot police near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters being sprayed with tear gas by the police on the Champs-Elysees. The avenue was on lockdown, with riot police manning barricades and water cannons. Demonstrators in yellow vests, which have become a symbol of the protest against President
Protesters being sprayed with tear gas by the police on the Champs-Elysees. The avenue was on lockdown, with riot police manning barricades and water cannons. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Unrest spreads across country as anger over fuel tax hikes turns into anti-govt movement

PARIS • Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters trying to tear down barricades on the Champs-Elysees in Paris yesterday as hundreds converged on the city for new demonstrations, with anger over fuel taxes morphing into a wide-ranging anti-government movement.

Clashes between police and demonstrators in the high-visibility yellow vests, which have become the symbol of the protest against French President Emmanuel Macron, broke out after crowds gathered near the Arc de Triomphe, at the top of the famous avenue.

The Champs-Elysees itself was on lockdown, its glittering Christmas decorations standing in stark contrast to boarded-up storefronts and throngs of riot police manning barricades and water cannons.

Some officers, wearing protective gear and helmets, were spattered with vivid yellow paint and targeted by protesters throwing rocks or construction barricades, or wielding slingshots.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that across France, there were some 36,000 protesters, including 5,500 in Paris. He added that at least 107 people were arrested.

Police unions said there were 582 road blockages in France. Nantes airport in western France was briefly closed after protesters reached the tarmac.

Banks, wine shops and cafes in the Champs-Elysees area raced to cover up windows, as the acrid odour of tear gas and burning trash containers filled the air. Several protesters wore face masks, while others carried gas masks or ski goggles.

The "yellow vest" movement erupted on social media in October and has since become a wider protest against Mr Macron, who is accused of failing to recognise the rising cost of living that has left many struggling.

Other protests were staged around France by people angry over a surge in fuel prices this year which they attribute to a series of tax increases to finance the government's anti-pollution efforts.

"With all these tax hikes, there's not much left for eating at the end of the month," a cook who gave his name as Philippe, and who works outside Paris, said yesterday.

The protests come a week after violent clashes on the avenue marked by burning barricades and vandalism which Mr Macron compared to "war scenes".

 
 

About 5,000 officers have been mobilised and were carrying out ID checks and searches for people hoping to reach the Champs-Elysees.

The "yellow vest" movement erupted on social media in October and has since become a wider protest against Mr Macron, who is accused of failing to recognise the rising cost of living that has left many struggling.

The first day of protests, on Nov 17, attracted around 282,000 people, while about 106,000 turned out on Nov 24, including 8,000 in the French capital.

The protesters include many pensioners, and the movement has been most active in small urban and rural areas where it has blocked roads, closed motorway toll booths, and even walled up the entrance to tax offices.

Two people have died and hundreds have been injured in the protests which opinion polls suggest are still attracting the support of two out of three French people.

Attempts by the government to negotiate with the movement have failed, in large part because representatives have insisted on public talks broadcast on TV.

Mr Macron has sought to douse the anger by promising three months of nationwide talks on how best to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.

He also vowed to slow the rate of increase in fuel taxes if international oil prices rise too rapidly, but only after a tax hike due in January.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 02, 2018, with the headline ''Yellow vest' protesters clash with French police'. Print Edition | Subscribe