737 arrests, scattered clashes in Paris on third protest weekend

Paris - By Pol O Gradaigh and Violetta Heise, - Scattered clashes broke out and police made 737 arrests Saturday in an unusually deserted Paris, as thousands of fuel tax protesters took to the streets for a third weekend running.

With authorities determined to prevent the running battles seen last week around the Arc de Triomphe, gendarmerie police said they had checked more than 5,000 people on the roads around the capital.

From the early morning, police let hundreds of the protesters, clad in the flourescent yellow safety bibs that have become the movement's symbol, filter onto the Champs-Elysees after careful searches.
There was relative calm across most of the city, which was unusually quiet for a Saturday.
Motor traffic was thin on the ground and the usual crowds of tourists were barely to be seen. Many shops and restaurants were boarded up, fearing a repeat of last week's vandalism.
On the Grands Boulevards in the north of the city, a march of largely left-wing protesters was pushed back by police, who used water cannon and tear gas to push through bins and at least one overturned scooter that the protesters tried to use to block their way.
Authorities had cleared away barriers around roadworks and the heavy metal grills around roadside trees ahead of the protests, after they were used to build barricades the week before.
Two of the dozen armoured cars the gendarmerie were deploying, an unusual move in Paris, could also be seen.
Workers from quickly-shuttered shops in the multi-ethnic Rue Saint-Denis came out to photograph the aftermath on their mobile phones.
Broadcaster BFMTV showed a car burning on Avenue Hoche near the Arc de Triomphe, while another blaze could be seen outside Saint-Lazare railway station and a young man repeatedly flung rocks at a building in an apparently unsuccessful attempt to smash the window.
But the trouble seemed less severe than the previous week, which saw more than 100 people injured.
A police source said there had been 737 arrests by late afternoon, with 55 people injured including three members of the security forces.
The relatively quieter day seemed to owe more to the revised police tactics than to the government's decision on Wednesday to cancel the planned petrol and diesel tax rises that sparked the protests.
Public broadcaster FranceInfo cited the Interior Ministry as saying that there were 31,000 protesters on the streets around France, including 8,000 in Paris.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe had estimated 5,500 protesters in the capital a week earlier.
"You know, that's all just for show," one Yellow Vest protester, who was joining in on-off blockades of traffic on the Place de la Bastille, told dpa when asked about the government climbdown.
Jeremy, 36, a local government official from a region near Paris, said people felt that their tax money was "being robbed."
"When you see how those who govern us live!", he added. "We want some justice too, a fairer distribution of wealth."
Steve Bannon, the former strategist of US President Donald Trump, said at an event Saturday in Brussels that the Yellow Vests in France are the "exact same type of people" that voted for Trump and for Brexit.
He described the protesters as "the deplorables of France, the exact same type of people that elected Donald Trump to be president of the United States in 2016, the same type of people that voted for Brexit, that want to have control of their countries."
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far right National Alliance, told the same event that it was "indecent" to envisage more migration at a time when French people are "revolting for their purchasing power and their dignity."
The protests have spilled over from France into Belgium and the Netherlands.
On Saturday, hundreds of people took to the streets in the Netherlands demanding that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte step down and their country exit the EU, among other things.
In Brussels, about 400 people were arrested at Yellow Vest protests on Saturday, with police saying about 1,000 people were taking part in the demonstrations.
Earlier in the day in Paris, police forced protesters off a segment of the Paris ring road and fired tear gas in a minor clash on a corner of the Champs-Elysees.
Some 89,000 members of the security forces have been mobilized around the country, with 8,000 in place in the capital.
Many of those arrested were suspected of joining a gathering in order to prepare violence, destruction or vandalism, according to police.
President Emmanuel Macron let it be known earlier this week that the planned hikes in petrol and diesel taxes, which sparked the protest movement, would be cancelled outright.
But prominent protesters insisted that they would descend on Paris anyway, speaking of wider demands including broader tax cuts and salary raises.


Saturday, December 8th 2018
By Pol O Gradaigh and Violetta Heise,

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