French “yellow vest” protesters have clashed with police in Paris, in the 18th straight weekend of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron and his government’s policies.
Large plumes of smoke on Saturday rose above the rioting on the landmark Champs-Elysees avenue in the French capital, as the demonstrators set fires and smashed up luxury stores.
Police tried to contain the protesters with tear gas and water cannons. More than 100 arrests were made.
One dangerous blaze targeted a bank on the ground floor of a seven-storey residential building. As firetrucks rushed over, a mother and her child were rescued as the fire threatened to engulf their floor, Paris’s fire service told The Associated Press news agency.
Eleven people in the building, including two firefighters, sustained light injuries, as other residents were evacuated to safety.
Simultaneous fires were also put out from two burning newspaper kiosks as groups of mostly black-clad demonstrators pelted the security forces with stones and erected barricades. Several protesters smiled as they posed for a photo in front of one the charred remains of the kiosks.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said up to 8,000 demonstrators were in Paris on Saturday, including 1,500 “ultraviolent ones that are there to smash things up”.
The turnout was seen as a test for the “yellow vest” movement, which began in November over fuel tax hikes and quickly ballooned into an anti-government rebellion but has struggled lately to mobilise large numbers of protesters.
The movement against Macron’s perceived bias in favour of the elite, takes its name from the yellow safety vests French law requires all motorists to carry.
Last week, around 28,000 people demonstrated nationwide, according to the authorities, a tenth of the numbers that turned out for the inaugural protest on November 17.
The latest rally coincided with the end of a two-month public debate called by Macron to try take the heat out of the protests and give voters a forum to propose policy changes to address declining living standards, stagnant wages and high unemployment.
Around half a million people turned out at townhall-style meetings held around the country, but many “yellow vest” protesters dismissed the consultation as a smokescreen.
On social media, “yellow vest” leaders had hinted at the arrival of sympathisers from Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and even Poland.
“Macron, we’re coming to get you at home,” some of the protesters chanted, referring to the presidential palace situated near the Champs-Elysees.