‘Yellow vest’ protesters in Paris and Brussels hit with tear gas as movement spreads
French riot police have fired tear gas and clashed with “yellow vest” protesters in central Paris during the latest wave of demonstrations against the high cost of living that have shaken President Emmanuel Macron’s authority.
- 89,000 police have been deployed across the country, 8,000 in Paris alone
- Protests have also spread to Belgium, with Prime Minister Charles Michel joining French President Emmanuel Macron as target of frustrations
- “Yellow vests” are demanding lower taxes, higher salaries and cheaper energy costs
Authorities said 575 people had been searched and briefly arrested and that 361 of them remained in custody after police found potential weapons such as hammers, baseball bats and metal petanque balls on them.
Hundreds of protesters were milling around the Arc de Triomphe monument, which was defaced with anti-Macron graffiti last Saturday when rioters also torched dozens of cars and looted shops in the worst rioting in Paris since May 1968.
Crowds had first tried to march down the Champs-Elysees avenue toward the Elysee Palace, but were prevented by rows of police pushing back with shields.
A few hundred people took side streets and tried to get past a police barricade, and police fired back with tear gas.
The Eiffel Tower and other tourist landmarks were shut down in preparation for the fourth weekend of confrontations in the French capital, with shops boarded up to avoid looting and street furniture removed to prevent metal bars from being used as projectiles.
About 89,000 police were deployed across the country, with 8,000 in Paris alone.
Police are searching people throughout central Paris and confiscating goggles and gas masks from journalists, who use them to protect against tear gas while covering demonstrations.
Weekend demonstrations dubbed ‘Act IV’
Protesters using social media have billed the weekend as “Act IV” in a dramatic challenge to Mr Macron and his policies.
The protests, named after the high-visibility safety jackets French motorists have to keep in their cars, erupted in November over the squeeze on household budgets caused by fuel taxes.
Demonstrations have since swelled into a broad, sometimes-violent rebellion against Mr Macron — a challenge made more difficult to handle since the movement has no formal leader.
Authorities say the protests have been hijacked by far-right and anarchist elements bent on violence and stirring up social unrest in a direct affront to Mr Macron and the security forces.
Demonstrators run by a burning fire near the Arc de Triomphe during the protests. (AP: Thibault Camus)
Nonetheless, the 40-year-old Mr Macron, whose popularity is at a low ebb according to polls, has been forced into making the first major U-turn of his presidency by abandoning a fuel tax.
Despite the climbdown, the “yellow vests” continue to demand more concessions from the Government, including lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy costs, better retirement provisions and even Mr Macron’s resignation.
Mr Macron, who has not spoken in public since he condemned last Saturday’s disturbances while at the G20 summit in Argentina, will address the nation early next week, his office said.
Protests spread to Belgium
Protesters held a banner reading “social winter is coming” during a demonstration in Brussels. (AP: Francisco Seco)
Meanwhile, the yellow vest protests also spread to Belgium, where police fired tear gas and water cannons at people calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Charles Michel who tried to breach a riot barricade.
Hundreds of marchers tried to enter the European quarter of Brussels, throwing paving stones, road signs, fireworks, flares and other objects at police blocking their entry to an area where Mr Michel’s offices, other government buildings and the parliament are located.
Brussels police spokeswoman Ilse Van de Keere said that around 400 protesters were gathered in the area.
About 100 were detained, many for carrying dangerous objects like fireworks or clothing that could be used as protection in clashes with police.
Police used pepper spray on a small group of men who threw street signs, bottles and other objects as they tried to break through a barricade near the European Parliament.
Walking behind a banner marked “social winter is coming”, the protesters have been chanting “Macron, Michel resign”.
Hundreds of police officers are being mobilised in Brussels after the protests spread. (AP: Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
The rallies, which started at different locations around the city and converged on the European quarter, have disrupted road and rail traffic.
Dozens of people were searched at stations.
Peaceful yellow-vest protests have also began in the Netherlands.
The reasons for the protests are not entirely clear. Neither Belgium nor the Netherlands has proposed a hike in fuel tax — the catalyst for the massive and destructive demonstrations in France in recent weeks.