PARIS (Reuters) – Police firing tear gas and water cannons clashed in Paris on Saturday with thousands of protesters angry over rising car fuel costs and President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies, the second weekend of “yellow vest” protests across France.
As night fell, the famed Champs-Elysees avenue, where fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld switched on the red lights of Christmas just a few days ago, was still aglow with fires lit by protesters.
President Emmanuel Macron thanked police forces for their” courage and professionalism” in dealing with demonstrators as calm progressively returned to the Champs Elysees.
“Shame on those who attacked them … There is no room for this violence in the Republic,” Macron said on Twitter.
During the clashes a trailer was set on fire and exploded on the Champs Elysees, France’s most famous tourist mile, and a man who tried to attack fire fighters was overpowered by some of the demonstrators themselves.
On the nearby Avenue de Friedland, police fired special rubber balls to control demonstrators, who carried French flags or slogans, saying “Macron, resignation” and “Macron, thief”.
Around 8,000 protesters had converged on the Champs Elysees where police tried to prevent them from reaching the president’s Elysee Palace.
Police detained 130 people in Paris and in protests in other parts of the country.
Protesters are opposed to taxes Macron introduced last year on diesel and petrol which are designed to encourage people to switch to cleaner forms of transport. Alongside the tax, the government has offered incentives to buy electric vehicles.
For more than a week, protesters clad in the fluorescent yellow jackets that all motorists in France must have in their cars have blocked highways across the country with burning barricades and convoys of slow-moving trucks, obstructing access to fuel depots, shopping centres and some factories.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner accused far-right leader Marine Le Pen of fanning the protests in the capital.
“Ultra-right networks were very mobilised on the Champs Elysees,” he said. There were about 20 people injured on the Champs Elysees, according to police.
CHALLENGE FOR MACRON
Last Saturday nearly 300,000 people took part in the first yellow vest demonstrations countrywide. By early evening on Saturday, more than 106,000 demonstrators were involved in protests across France, according to the ministry.
The unrest is a dilemma for Macron who casts himself as a champion against climate change but has been derided as out of touch with common folk and is fighting a slump in popularity.
While the movement, which has no leader, began as a backlash against higher fuel prices, it has tapped into broader frustration at the sense of a squeeze on household spending power under Macron’s 18-month-old government.
Since coming to power, Macron has seen off trade union and street demonstrations against his changes to the labour rules, and overhauled the heavily indebted state rail operator. Foreign investors have largely cheered his pro-business administration.
(Editing by Richard Balmforth)