Unrest returns to Paris with worst yellow vest violence in weeks

Jannat Jalil
- Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Anti-government protesters hurled rocks and paving slabs at police, looted boutiques, smashed up a luxury restaurant on Paris’s famed Champs-Elysées and set a bank on fire on Saturday.

A mother and her baby trapped on the second floor of the building, as flames surged up from the bank branch on the ground floor, were rescued by firefighters. The bank offices were gutted and 11 people were slightly injured, including two police officers.

Smoke and tear gas shrouded the Champs-Elysées and at least 109 people were arrested in the worst outbreak of violence on the fringes of a “yellow vest” demonstration in Paris for several weeks.

President Emmanuel Macron has cut short his skiing holiday to return to Paris to chair an emergency meeting over what the authorities are describing as "intolerable violence and damage".  

Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, tweeted that those who set the bank on fire “are neither demonstrators nor troublemakers: they are killers.” 

Grinning “yellow vest” protesters posed for photographs in front of the shattered facade of Le Fouquet’s, a restaurant that earned Nicolas Sarkozy the nickname of “President Bling-bling” when he celebrated his 2007 election victory there.

 A Yellow Vest protester gestures in front of a newsagent set alight during clashes with riot police Credit:  ZAKARIA ABDELKAFI/ AFP
A Yellow Vest protester destroys a shop window during clashes with riot police forces on the Champs-Elysees Credit: AFP

Much of the violence on the 18th consecutive Saturday of protests against President Macron’s economic reforms was blamed on anarchists, far-Right and ultra-leftist agitators rather than the “yellow vests” themselves. 

Police estimated the number of demonstrators at about 32,000 across France. About 5,000 police officers were deployed in Paris alone. The numbers of protesters have dwindled since the “yellow vest” movement began in November, amid growing anger over income inequality and a lack of public services in rural areas and small towns. 

More took to the streets on Saturday compared with recent weeks, following social media calls for a strong turnout to mark the four-month anniversary of the movement’s launch.

President Macron wrapped up a “great debate” consultation exercise on Friday to allow people to vent their grievances, which has helped him to regain some of the popularity lost since his election. Some “yellow vests” have dismissed the exercise as a campaign ploy ahead of European elections in May.

About 30,000 people took part in a separate, peaceful demonstration to demand urgent government action to combat climate change