Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators in Paris on Saturday as thousands gathered in the capital and staged road blockades across France to vent anger against rising fuel taxes and Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.
Thousands of police were deployed nationwide to contain the demonstrations, including a tense protest at the foot of the Champs-Elysees where protesters wielded placards reading “Death to Taxes” and upturned a large vehicle.
No-one was injured in the clashes, but six were arrested for “throwing projectiles”, Paris Police told the Associated Press.
“It’s going to trigger a civil war and me, like most other citizens, we’re all ready,” said Benjamin Vrignaud, a 21-year-old protester from Chartres.
The famous avenue was dotted from early morning with neon, owing to the hi-vis vests the myriad self-styled “yellow jacket” protesters wear.
French drivers are required to keep neon security vests in their vehicles.
Five thousand protesters flooded the Champs-Elysees alone, with 23,000 protesters in total nationwide, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
Officials deployed some 3,000 security forces, notably around tourist-frequented areas, after an unauthorized attempt last week to march on the presidential Elysee Palace.
Authorities said protesters have so far not breached a no-go zone set up by authorities around key areas including the presidential palace and the National Assembly on the Left Bank of the Seine River.
But authorities are struggling because the movement has no clear leader and has attracted a motley group of people with broadly varying demands.
In a week of demonstrations that has dominated national news coverage, hundreds have been injured and two people died in accidents stemming from the protests.
The unrest is proving a major challenge for theembattled Macron, who is suffering in the polls and the focus of rage for the demonstrators, who accuse the pro-business centrist of indifference to the struggles of ordinary French people.
Macron has insisted that the fuel tax rises are a necessary pain to reduce France’s dependence on fossil fuels and fund renewable energy investments, which is a cornerstone of his reforms of the nation. He will defend fresh plans to make the “energy transition” easier on Tuesday.
Minister Castaner has blamed the far right for much of the unrest, Reuters reports.
“In Paris things are evolving thanks to Marine Le Pen [leader of French far-right party the National Rally] who told protesters to go down to the Champs Elysees and about 5,000 people did so,” he said on Saturday. “We can see that the ultra-right is at work and is trying to build barricades on the Champs Elysees.
“Our security forces anticipated this situation perfectly and so little by little each obstacle that’s put on the Champs Elysees is removed, the security forces are moving forward using techniques which mean they can avoid injuries anyone, including water canon and tear gas, which allow them to push back the attackers, push back the insurgents.”
On Friday, a man caused a dramatic stand-off with police when he donned a neon vest and brandished an apparent grenade at a supermarket in the western city of Angers. He was later arrested.