Clashes between Yellow Vest demonstrators and police broke out as rallies intensified on the 18th consecutive weekend of protests. President Emmanuel Macron’s “great debate” aimed at calming the protests ended on Friday.
Saturday’s rally saw thousands of people flooding the streets of downtown Paris, with many wearing black balaclavas and holding French flags.
Violence erupted on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, where protesters assembled to take part in the weekly march which began in November. According to the Associated Press, Paris mobilized more police than in previous weeks in an attempt to stave off unrest.
“From 7,000 to 8,000 people are currently rallying in Paris, and out of them around 1,500 people are ultraviolent, and they have come to destroy and to attack,” French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told broadcaster BFMTV.
The area around the iconic landmark was quickly enveloped in smoke. Some protesters tried to erect barricades to block streets around the Place Charles de Gaulle, prompting police to respond with crowd control measures.
AP reported that at least one car was set ablaze by demonstrators. The demonstration broke out into a riot, with some protesters looting stores on Champs-Elysees, according to reports.
Video taken at the scene shows cafes and shops with smashed windows and broken furniture, as police stand guard in the street. The Yellow Vests have been quick to distance themselves from looters, claiming that the vandalism is carried out by a radical minority.
A projectile fired by police injured a Ruptly producer filming the demonstration. Video footage shows the producer receiving first aid from Yellow Vest medics.
In a message posted online ahead of Saturday’s protests, organizers said they wanted the day to serve as an “ultimatum” to “the government and the powerful.”
The latest round of ‘Yellow Vest’ protests coincides with the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s “grand national debate.” The first round of the debates, meant to reconcile with the grassroots protest movement, kicked off in the northern town of Grand Bourgtheroulde, with Macron and hundreds of local officials attending.
Macron expressed hope that a frank nationwide discussion of pressing issues would help alleviate growing political unrest. He has promised to increase the minimum wage but also warned that he would not back down on his pro-business reforms.
As a result, Yellow Vest activists have criticized the “grand debate” as a mere PR campaign. “We don’t care about the national debate because we know it won’t change anything,” a Yellow Vests campaigner told the press. Others said the whole approach is designed merely to appease popular anger.