Fighting erupted in central Paris today as thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of France for the fifth Saturday in a row.
Tear gas and baton charges were used by riot police around the capital’s famous Opera district on a so-called ‘Act V’ Day of Rage, and by midday more than 60 protesters were in custody.
But by the evening there were close to 170 arrests in central Paris as mounted police, water cannons, and 14 armoured vehicles capable of spreading high-intensity gas meanwhile gathered in around the city’s landmarks.
There had been 168 arrests by 6pm, far down on the roughly 1,000 protesters taken into custody following last Saturday’s demonstrations in Paris.
Around 69,000 security forces were mobilised across France, down from 89,000 last Saturday when 2,000 people were detained at various demonstration around the country.
High-end shops including luxury fashion boutiques were all boarded up around the Opera, along with banks and post offices.
In the late afternoon, a water cannon in a line of police vans confronting protesters sprayed water into a crowd in frigid weather to disperse them. Firefighters put out a fire on a side street leading to the Champs-Elysees and small scuffles broke out between protesters and police.
As night closed in this evening, there were brief disturbances along the Champs Elysee – the most famous shopping avenue in France.
A spokesman for the Paris prefecture said at 7pm: ‘There have been 168 arrests so far, with 115 held for public order offences. Seven serious injuries have been reported.’
Most were so-called Yellow Vest fuel price demonstrators, who are named after the high visibility jackets they wear.
Tear gas floats in the air during clashes with police at a demonstration as a man shelters from the debris storm with an umbrella while staring at an incoming smoke bomb
Protesters wearing yellow vests (gilets jaunes) clash with French riot police during a demonstration on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. One masked man prepares to launch a smoke grenade in the direction of police tackling the protesters
Clashes between protesters and French riot police erupt in front of the Opera as one woman is tackled to the ground
French Gendarmes surrounded protesters kneeling on the ground and spray the with tear gas during in Paris. One yellow vest member had his hands raised in submission and despite the noxious substance manage to keep hold of his cigarette
A protester dressed as Santa Claus kicks a tear gas canister away as smoke is released into the air during clashes in the French capital this afternoon
Fireworks explode on French riot police vehicles launched by protesters wearing a yellow vest as they demonstrate in Bordeaux in southwestern France
Health team members carry an injured protester with a stretcher during yellow vests’ (gilets jaunes) protest against rising oil prices and deteriorating economic conditions in Paris
A protester wearing a gas mask throws a tear gas canister during a demonstration today against rising costs of living blamed on high taxes
Minor clashes in the cities of Toulouse, Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux were reported, while protesters snarled traffic on motorways in the south of the country and on the A16 near the port of Calais in the north.
They have been protesting since November 17 and, despite a range of concessions by President Emmanuel Macron including scrapping green taxes of diesel and petrol, continue to call for him to step down.
The demonstrations against France’s high cost of living – sapped by cold weather, rain and recent concessions by Macron – were significantly smaller Saturday than at previous rallies, some of which scarred parts of Paris with vandalism and looting.
‘Macron Resign’, a crowd of around 1,500 chanted today in the streets around the 19th Century Opera Garnier, which is normally a huge draw for tourists.
Around 8,000 police officers have been deployed ahead of a fifth consecutive week of demonstrations.
France’s interior ministry said earlier today that the number of ‘yellow vest’ protesters in France was estimated at 33,500 at midday – half the level of a week ago – but by 6pm it was up to 66,000.
The ministry said 126,000 ‘yellow vests’ – named after the fluorescent jackets they wear – had been counted at the same point last weekend.
Police in Paris said fewer than 3,000 had gathered in the capital for the fifth consecutive Saturday of demonstrations, which have so far been largely peaceful.
Protesters end up in a stand off with police forces armed with riot shields during the fifth consecutive weekend of protests
A police officer pepper sprays protesters as several guards tackle demonstrators the the floor in Paris this afernoon
French security forces intervene in protesters during yellow vests’ protest against rising oil prices and deteriorating economic conditions
Smoke grenades are let off as police march forward towards yellow vest protesters in front of the Opera Garnier in Paris today
French riot police try to disperse yellow vest protesters during a demonstration in Bordeaux today
A police water cannon sprays water on demonstrators today as tear gas billowed across the French capital’s protest-scarred Champs-Elysees after a day of largely peaceful demonstrations
Five of France’s top-flight football matches have been postponed due to violence across the country.
Today Paris Saint-Germain’s games in Dijon was called off, as Amiens match against Angers, and Montpellier trip to Nantes.
Tomorrow Guingamp v Rennes and Marseille’s home game against Bordeaux has also been rearranged, while Reims v Strasbourg will still go ahead and hold a minute’s silence for the victim’s of Tuesday’s Christmas market terror attack in which four people were killed.
In this early afternoon in Paris, security forces fired teargas on the Champs-Elysees, the epicentre of the protests on previous weekends, as around 500 yellow vests gathered to denounce the government of President Macron.
There were also minor clashes at the Place de l’Opera in Paris where police detonated noise grenades to control crowds there.
Macron announced a series of concessions on Monday to defuse the explosive ‘yellow vest’ crisis, which swelled up from rural and small-town France last month.
He was hoping the package of tax and minimum wage measures for low-income workers, as well as bitter winter weather, will bring calm to the country.
The government had also called on people to stay at home to give stretched security forces a break after another terror attack on Tuesday in Strasbourg where a gunman killed four people at a Christmas market.
Monaem Zarhouni, a 43-year-old father-of-two, in the capital today said: ‘I’ve come to demonstrate peacefully; as soon as there’s violence, I’m leaving.
‘My wife’s unemployed too and we live on 700 euros ($800) a month. It’s tough, we’re always struggling.’
A protester wearing a yellow vest (gilet jaune) gestures in front of police forces during a demonstration against rising costs of living blamed on high taxes on the Champs-Elysees in Paris
Protesters clashed in with police in Paris (pictured), Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes, and near Calais
Mounted police, water cannons, and 14 armoured vehicles capable of spreading high-intensity gas gathered in around the centre of Paris and the city’s landmarks
A protester dressed as Santa Claus and wearing a yellow vest take part in a demonstration in Paris today
A protester wears a yellow vest with a graphic message against taxes during a demonstration in Nantes this afternoon
Police vans block off the Champs Elysees Boulevard to prevent yellow vest protesters from vandalising the monument
French Gendarmes clash with protesters and apprehend a man during violent protests in the French capital this morning
Protesters wearing yellow vests kneel on the cobbled streets of Paris. Around 8,000 police officers have been deployed ahead of a fifth consecutive week of demonstrations
French police apprehend yellow vest protesters who block the road as part of the so-called ‘Act V’ Day of Rage this morning in Petit-Fontaine
An elderly high-vis demonstrator is escorted away after blocking off the road as part of a protest in Petit-Fontaine this morning
A protester wearing a yellow vest and holding flowers talks with French riot police during a demonstration in Paris
A protester wearing a yellow vest offers flowers to French riot police during a demonstration by the ‘yellow vests’ movement in Paris this morning
A protester dressed as Santa Claus, holding a sack of presents, stands on the steps of the Opera Garnier in Paris and chants for President Emmanuel Macron to resign
Smoke grenades are hurled in the streets of Paris as riot police and protesters clash for the fifth consecutive week
A 28-year-old ‘yellow vest’ called Jeremy who joined a group gathering in freezing cold on the Champs-Elysees shortly after 8am, said: ‘Last time, we were here for taxes. This is for the institutions: we want more direct democracy.’
He added that people needed to ‘shout to make themselves heard’.
Throughout the morning, riot police played a game of cat-and-mouse with groups of protesters who moved around the centre of Paris, much of which has been cordoned off for traffic.
There were isolated incidents of tear gas being fired, but a fraction of the amount used on the weekends of December 8 or December 1 when graffiti was daubed on the Arc de Triomphe in scenes that shocked France.
Until this week, a clear majority of French people had backed the protests, which sprung up initially over tax hikes on transport fuel before snowballing into wide opposition to Macron’s pro-business agenda and style of governing.
But two polls published on Tuesday – in the wake of Macron’s concessions – found the country was now split broadly 50-50 on whether the protests should continue.
‘We expect slightly less people (in the streets) but individuals who are slightly more determined ,’ junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said late Friday.
A group of women, dressed in reference to France’s emblematic Marianne figure (a personification of liberty and reason), face a line of police officers during a Yellow Vest demonstration in Paris
A protester with a bloodied face is escorted away by riot police after clashes in the streets of the French capital
Protesters climb on each others shoulders during a Yellow Vest demonstration on the Champs Elysees in Paris
Around 8,000 police officers have been deployed ahead of a fifth consecutive week of demonstrations. Police pictured securing an area in Nantes, where demonstrations have also taken place
A French riot police officer aims at protesters wearing yellow vests (gilets jaunes) with a non-lethal hand-held weapon (LBD40) during a demonstration against rising costs of living blamed on high taxes
Yellow vest protesters take to the streets of Paris this morning for a fifth consecutive week of protests against the government
A man wearing a yellow vest tackles a protester as tear gas floats in the air during clashes with police at a demonstration by the ‘yellow vests’ movement in Nantes
Protesters wearing yellow vests give and one-handed gesture of defiance to riot police during a demonstration in Paris
A masked protester carrying a Star Wars Lightsaber raises his arms as he walks with hundreds of protesters in Paris this morning
Potential weapons including gas canisters, flash ball guns, baseball bats, and petanque balls have been confiscated today, said the spokesman.
Around 90,000 security forces were mobilised last Saturday across France and 2,000 people were detained, around half of them in Paris.
They have failed to prevent widespread disorder over the past few weekends, as roads including the Champs Elysee exploded into intense violence.
There were almost 750 arrests in Paris alone last Saturday, with rioters and looters also taking to the streets of major cities such as Bordeaux and Marseille.
‘There have been 61 arrests so far, mainly of those carrying potential offensive weapons,’ a spokesman for the Paris prefecture said at 12 midday.
Eric Drouet, a senior figure in the yellow vest movement, said in a video posted on Facebook: ‘What Macron did on Monday, was a call to carry on because he has started to give ground, which is unusual for him.’
Richard Ferrand, parliament speaker and a close ally of Macron, told the Cnews channel this evening: ‘The turnout was lower, which was necessary from my point of view. It’s not a time for combat, but debate.’
A yellow vest demonstrator poses with an effigy of French President in front of the Negresco Palace this afternoon
Demonstrators hold a sign reading ‘Enough of taxes, take on your own privileges’ next to a man dressed as Santa Claus in Marseille
Female campaigners wave the French flag as they march down the Champs-Elysees avenue this morning
Protesters wrap themselves in French flags and lay on the ground in front of the Paris Opera in the French capital this morning
Protesters and riot police face each other during a small clash during a Yellow Vest demonstration on the Champs Elysees in Paris
Prominent activist Jean-Baptiste Redde, aka Voltuan, 61, wearing a yellow vest (gilet jaune) holds a cardboard reading ‘Macron go away’
French riot police tussle with a protester during demonstrations in Nantes against rising costs of living the activists blame on high taxes
French riot police clash with a demonstrator wearing a yellow vest as they protest taxes in Nantes in western France
A protester dressed as Santa Claus takes a seat on a street bollard in Paris today as demonstrations continued across the country
A protester holds up a bunch of flowers as he runs through the smoke of tear gas during a demonstration on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris
A demonstrator gestures to riot police with a cigarette in his hand in Paris today
‘The police are trying to funnel us into secure areas, but we’re ignoring them,’ said Philippe Berger, a 34-year-old Yellow Vest from Brittany.
‘We’ve come a long way, and want to demonstrate in our own way. The establishment has let us down, and needs a complete change. Macron has to go, and we won’t stop protesting until he does.’
As Mr Berger spoke, police fired gas canisters in to the air, filling streets with white smoke.
The Vests have been joined by extremists from the far Right and the ultra-Left, as well as anarchists intent on causing as much damage as possible.
Maria, who manages the Le Vin Coeur restaurant near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris said this morning: ‘That people demonstrate, no problem, but the vandalism is appalling.’
Like thousands of other business and restaurant owners across the capital, she was apprehensive and ready to pull down her shutters and close at the first whiff of teargas.
A French police officer aims his Lanceur de balle de defense (LBD40) weapon, which fires rubber bullets, as protests kick off in the capital this morning
A unit of mounted police officers stand guard in front of the Opera during the Yellow Vest demonstration today
A French police officer holds a rubber bullet weapon as she patrols in the centre of Paris with guards clutching riot gear and shields
Riot police watch yellow vest protesters guard the Place Pey Berland during a demonstration in Bordeaux
French plain clothes policemen wearing balaclavas, helmets and holding batons, block a protester as they demonstrate in Nantes
A single yellow vest protester in Paris stands in front of a row of gendames as small scuffles broke out around the city
Around 8,000 police officers have been deployed in Paris ahead of a fifth consecutive week of demonstrations today
Driver dies as Yellow Vest protesters block off road in Belgium
A driver died in Belgium near the border with France Saturday after hitting a truck which had slowed down due to a road blockade by ‘yellow vest’ protesters, a local government official said.
The accident happened in the Erquelinnes area of Belgium at a junction between the N40 and N54 roads ‘after a slowdown in France caused by the ‘yellow vests’,’ the local government office in northern France said.
Many of the ‘yellow vest’ figureheads, along with leaders of the far-left Unbowed France party, urged protesters to turn out on Saturday to pressure the government into making further concessions.
Others suggested that the mostly small town and rural protesters should show resolve by rallying in the regions rather than heading for the capital.
France ‘needs calm, order and to go back to its normal functioning’, President Macron said last night.
On Thursday, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux had called on protesters to stay at home on what is normally a busy shopping weekend ahead of Christmas.
He said: ‘It would be better if everyone could go about their business calmly on Saturday, before the year-end celebrations with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work once again.’
He was speaking in the wake of an attack Tuesday in the eastern city of Strasbourg, which left four dead and 12 wounded.
In a bid to end the protests, Macron announced a package of measures on Monday estimated by economists to cost up to 15 billion euros ($17 billion).
He cancelled the planned fuel tax hikes, offered a rise in the minimum wage, tax relief for pensioners and tax-free overtime for workers in 2019.
Protesters wearing yellow vests march during a demonstration to protest against rising costs of living they blame on high taxes in Marseille, southern France
A man dressed as a King punches the sky as he stands in front of the Paris Opera where hundreds of protesters in high-vis vests congregate
For a greater Claus: Santa in a high-vis jacket joins in on demonstrations outside the Opera in Paris this morning
A false electoral card was burned during a demonstration as yellow vests protesters worse gas masks and demonstrated against high taxes in Nantes, western France
A demonstrator wearing a yellow vest vandalises ‘Macron resign’ on a wall during Saturday morning protests
A protester standing amid smoke of tear gas as he faces French riot police during a demonstration on the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris today
Crisis-ridden Mr Macron has not only climbed down on imposing green surcharges, but increased the national minimum wage by seven per sent, and scapping tax on bonuses.
But the Yellow Vests said their protests would continue indefinitely as they campaign for even more concessions.
There have been calls for a State of Emergency to be announced, and for the Army to take to the streets.
The current spate of Paris violence is considered the worst since the Spring of 1968, when President Charles de Gaulle’s government feared a full-blown revolution.
The independent Mr Macron, leader of the Republic On The Move party, won the French presidential election in a landslide in 2017, but he is now dubbed the ‘President of the Rich’ with polls showing his popularity rating down to just 18 per cent.
The yellow vest movement, which began as a protest against fuel taxes and then grew into an anti-Macron alliance, appears to have calmed since the president announced a series of measures to help the working poor.
There was a strong police presence outside the central Saint Lazare station today, where police in riot gear checked bags for helmets and other potential signs of trouble.
Protester wearing a yellow vest take part in a demonstration against rising costs of living blamed on high taxes on the Champs-Elysees in Paris
Demonstrators run away through tear gas launched by riot police in Lyon, central France, today
French Gendarmes apprehend yellow vest protester during a demonstration by the ‘yellow vests’ movement in Paris
Riot police and yellow vest protesters line up alongside riot vans as a small fire burns in the street during demonstrations in Bordeaux as night fall sets in
Protestors wearing yellow vests demonstrate on the the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge) in the centre of Rotterdam, Netherlands
The so-called gilets jaunes, who started in France, are protesting over rising fuel prices and taxes and have spread throughout Europe (pictured in Rotterdam)
Here, they march along the the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge) in the centre of Rotterdam during somewhat peaceful protests
‘Respect my existence or expect my resistance,’ read one banner held aloft by some of the thousands of protesters who began converging on the Champs-Elysees on Saturday morning.
Max Werle, a 56-year-old father of nine, said the protests were his first-ever demonstrations.
He said, adding that his daughter had given birth in a firetruck on Monday because the local hospital in Loiret outside Paris had closed years ago: ‘I’m here for my children. ‘(We are) here to defend our cause … it’s not a left and right thing.’
‘We’re here to represent all our friends and members of our family who can’t come to protest, or because they’re scared,’ said Pierre Lamy, a 27-year-old industrial worker wearing a yellow vest and with a French flag draped over his shoulders as he walked to the protest with three friends.
‘Everything’s coming up now,’ Lamy said. ‘We’re being bled dry.’
He added the protests had long stopped being about the fuel tax and had turned into a movement for economic justice.
Riot police survey the damage as they and their vehicles have been left covered in paint during demonstrations in Bordeaux
A riot officer with a huge yellow paint mark on his shield standing in front of protesters in Bordeaux today
Riot police take a yellow vest protester into custody during a demonstration in Bordeaux
A protester dressed as Santa Claus walking among yellow vest demonstrators at a demonstration against rising costs of living on the Champs-Elysees in Paris
Police monitor the situation as demonstrators wearing yellow vests blocked the highway near the French border with Spain today
The protesters caused traffic chaos in Biriatou, southwestern France, this morning during the fifth consecutive week of demonstrations
French Gendarmes apprehend yellow vest protester as tear gas surrounds them and they drag him away during a demonstration in Paris
A man lying on the pavement is helped by police forces during a demonstration near the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris
The French government tweeted, showing a 34-second video that began with images of historic French protests and recent footage of ‘yellow vest’ protesters rallying peacefully before turning to violence: ‘Protesting is a right. So let’s know how to exercise it.’
‘Protesting is not smashing. Protesting is not smashing our heritage. Protesting is not smashing our businesses. … Protesting is not smashing our republic,’ the video said.
Julie Verrier, a protester from Picardie in Normandy in northern France who went to Paris for today’s demonstration, said: ‘I think that Macron isn’t in touch with what the yellow vests want. I think the yellow vests need to continue speaking out.
‘Local city halls are closed, so we can’t go there to express and write our complaints,’ she said. ‘So coming here is the only way we have to say that French people need to be heard.’
Protesters wearing yellow vests shout slogans as they gather at the Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid during a demonstration calling for better pensions
Yellow vest revolt in France sparked copycat protests around Europe – but some reports have been fake
The month-long French demonstrations, which have led to repeated rioting in Paris, have inspired protesters in a number of mostly European countries.
On December 8, some 400 people were detained in Brussels after protesters wearing high-visibility fluorescent vests briefly clashed with police.
Others reportedly blocked a highway linking Brussels to the town of Rekkem in Flanders, near the French border to protest high taxes.
On the same day in the Netherlands, ‘yellow vests’ turned out in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague to protest the high cost of living, but they were few in number and the demonstrations were peaceful.
In Hungary, some of those protesting a new law, which increases the amount of overtime employers can require of workers, also dressed up in yellow vests on December 12 outside parliament.
And in Poland, farmers wearing the distinctive jackets on Wednesday blocked a motorway to demand government compensation for a swine flu outbreak.
In Germany, both Alice Weidel, one of the founders of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, and the radical left-wing Die Linke party have expressed support for the French movement.
And some yellow vests were seen among a 1,000-strong crowd of right-wing demonstrators when the Pegida anti-migrant movement when it held a rally on December 1 in Berlin.
In Belgrade, a handful of opposition members of parliament also donned yellow on December 4 to protest petrol price increases.
In South Africa, where some protesters have been spotted wearing yellow vests during demonstrations against the low quality of public services, the Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) spoke out in favour of the French movement, saying it was a model for future protests.
The French movement kicked off on November 17 over higher fuel taxes, but quickly morphed into a nationwide grassroot protest against the high cost of living and the government.
President Emmanuel Macron has since offered tax and wage concessions in a bid to end the protest.
In Egypt, authorities fearing possible protests on the anniversary of the uprising that toppled Egypt’s longtime president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, have sought to restrict the sale of yellow vests.
‘We received instructions from the police around a week ago to sell yellow vests to companies only, and not to individuals,’ one importer said.
And a human rights lawyer, Mohamed Ramadan, was remanded in custody earlier this month over charges including the distribution and possession of leaflets and yellow vests.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, defended the jailing of an elderly rights activist over calls to protest, stressing he wanted to prevent events like France’s ‘yellow vest’ revolt.
But not every sighting of a high-visibility jacket should be seen as political.
Many social media accounts wrongly reported on Monday that German rail workers, who held a one-day strike for higher pay, wore yellow vests in solidarity with the French.
The vests are mandatory to ensure they are visible when on the railway tracks.
Other reports were pure fakes.
An internet platform, 24jours.com, published a photograph showing 300 motorcyclists in yellow vests purportedly demonstrating in the capital of the Central African Republic against ‘the French neo-colonial system’ and against the local French-linked currency.
The picture was in fact taken in May when motorcyclists in Bangui attended a first aid training clinic.