French security forces have fired tear gas and water cannons against “yellow vest” protesters in the capital, Paris, as demonstrations against rising fuel taxes and President Emmanuel Macron‘s economic policies spread throughout the country.
Thousands of police were deployed nationwide to contain Saturday’s rallies, which saw 5,000 protesters descending in central Paris and 23,000 others in cities across France, according to officials.
The protesters are upset about new taxes on diesel and gasoline, justified as an anti-pollution levy by Macron’s centrist government.
A week ago, more than 250,000 people wearing fluorescent yellow vests joined the nationwide protests – from southerly Provence to northerly Normandy and in between – that have laid bare growing anger over stagnant spending power and the rollback in public services in some parts of the country.
Two people have died and more than 750 others, including 136 police officers, have been injured during the week of demonstrations, which have also spread to French territories abroad, including the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
Since assuming office in May 2017, Macron has also seen off trade union and street demonstrations against his changes to labour rules.
Political foes meanwhile have dismissed him as the “president of the rich” for ending a wealth tax, while his popularity has slumped at barely 20 percent.
Demonstrators demand Macron resignation
In Paris, demonstrators at Champs-Elysees sang the national anthem and waved French flags while others carried signs with slogans saying “Macron, resignation” and “Death to Taxes”.
Some members of the crowd were reportedly seen upturning a large vehicle, digging up cobble stones and building barricades, while others tried to break through a police security cordon around sensitive sites, including the presidential palace, in the heart of the capital.
No one was injured in the clashes but six people were arrested for “throwing projectiles”, police told The Associated Press news agency.
About 5,000 protestors gathered on the Champs-Elysees on Saturday, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner [Benoit Tessier/Reuters]
Some protesters condemned the police for firing tear gas and water cannon against them.
“We have just demonstrated peacefully, and we were tear-gassed … we see how we are welcomed in Paris,” Christophe, a 49-year-old who had travelled to Paris from the Isere region in eastern France with his wife, told the AFP news agency.
Alleged far-right involvement
Authorities, meanwhile, claimed the unrest was linked to the “presence of members of the far right who harassed the security forces”.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner accused Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, of fanning the protests.
“The ultra-right is mobilised and is building barricades on the Champs Elysees. They are progressively being neutralised and pushed back by police,” he said.
Le Pen repudiated Castaner’s claim in a tweet, saying she had merely questioned why no protests were being allowed in the area.
|Macron beat Le Pen in a runoff vote for the French presidency in May 2017 [File: Yves Herman/Reuters]
According to Bruno Cautres, a political scientist at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, commonly referred to as Sciences Po, the president’s push to increase fuel taxes was “simply a drop of water that broke the mud”.
“Macron raised a lot of expectations and hope that people would become better off after his election,” Cautres told Al Jazeera from Paris.
“But these people [the protesters] don’t see changes in their daily lives, they feel a lot of frustration and believe they pay too much tax but don’t get enough [from the government],” he said.