France: Violence flares at yellow vest protest reboot

Demonstrators in Paris fought with police on Saturday, as organizers sought to breathe new life into a movement that has rocked the administration of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Protesters threw smoke bombs and other missiles at police on the Champs-Elysees, where a large security cordon had been set up to protect the Arc de Triomphe war memorial.

Demonstrators attacked a police van before officers wearing riot gear moved in to push them away. Police fired tear gas and trained a water cannon on the protesters, who had set barricades alight from a side street.

Some protesters looted stores and smashed windows along the Champs-Elysees, known for its theaters, cafés and luxury shops. A high-end Fouquet's restaurant and Boss menswear store were among the properties damaged.

The Champs-Elysees, along with the Arc de Triomphe itself, were attacked in previous yellow vest protests.

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The aims of the protesters, who include members of both the far right and far left, are varied. However, chief among their concerns are high taxes and declining incomes.

Critics of the government claim Macron favors the rich and alienates those who are struggling. Macron’s popularity rating has fallen sharply since his election in 2017, although it has improved in recent weeks – to some 28 percent.

The demonstrations come at the end of a two-month national debate that Macron organized in response to protests that began in November.

Read more: France's 'great debate' is over — so what comes next?

Up to half a million people took part in meetings held across the country to discuss topics including tax, services, unemployment and the environment.

The yellow vest protests appeared to be diminished in recent weeks, with some 28,600 protesters counted at last week’s demonstrations a far cry from previous figures. When the protests began, some 300,000 people were involved in a day of action to block roads.

The yellow vest protests started in response to a fuel tax increase, as part of Macron’s push for a cleaner energy policy. Macron subsequently dropped the policy and promised more than 10 billion euros ($11 billion) to boost the incomes of pensioners and France’s poorest workers.

rc/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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