Rioting engulfs Paris as anger grows over high French taxes

PARIS (AP) — The rumble of armored police trucks and the hiss of tear gas filled central Paris on Saturday, as French riot police fought to contain thousands of yellow-vested protesters venting their anger against the government in a movement that has grown more violent by the week.

A ring of steel surrounded the president's Elysee Palace — a key destination for the protesters — as police stationed trucks and reinforced metal barriers throughout the neighborhood.

Stores along the elegant Champs-Elysees Avenue and the posh Avenue Montaigne boarded up their windows as if bracing for a hurricane but the storm struck anyway Saturday, this time at the height of the holiday shopping season. Protesters ripped off the plywood protecting the windows and threw flares and other projectiles. French riot police repeatedly repelled them with tear gas and water cannon.

Saturday's yellow vest crowd was overwhelmingly male, a mix of those bringing their financial grievances to Paris — the center of France's government, economy and culture — along with groups of experienced vandals who tore steadily through some of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, smashing and burning.

Police and protesters also clashed in other French cities, notably Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux, and in neighboring Belgium. Some protesters took aim at the French border with Italy, creating a huge traffic backup near the town of Ventimiglia.

The French government's plan was to prevent a repeat of the Dec. 2 rioting that damaged the Arc de Triomphe, devastated central Paris and tarnished the country's global image. It did not succeed, even though it was better prepared.

Although Saturday's protest in the French capital started out quietly, tear gas choked the Champs-Elysees Avenue by early evening.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that 135 people had been injured and 974 taken into custody amid protests around the nation. Paris police headquarters counted 71 injuries in the capital, seven of them police officers.

An estimated 125,000 people demonstrated around France while 10,000 took their anger to the streets of Paris, double the number in the capital last week, the interior minister said. Toughening security tactics, French authorities deployed 8,000 security officers in the capital alone, among the 89,000 who fanned out around the country.

A Starbucks near the Champs-Elysees was smashed wide open and people were seen stepping over broken glass and serving themselves to beverages. The window of a nearby bank was smashed in with a wrought-iron decoration used to encircle city tree trunks.

All of the city's top tourist attractions — including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre museum — shut down for the day, fearing the kind of damage that hit the Arc de Triomphe a week ago. Christmas markets and soccer matches were cancelled. Subway stations in the city center closed and the U.S. embassy warned citizens to avoid all protest areas.

Yet in a sign of the financial disconnect that infuriates many of the protesters, a few blocks from the famed boulevard, people were sitting in Paris cafes, drinking cocktails and chatting.

Amid the melee, President Emmanuel Macron remained invisible and silent, as he has for the four weeks of a movement that started as a protest against a gas tax hike and metamorphosed into a rebellion against high taxes and eroding living standards.

The mayor of the city of Saint-Etienne, a town in southeast France hit by violence Saturday, castigated Macron for failing to speak out, saying it "feeds the resentment."

"This silence becomes contempt for the nation," the mayor, Gael Perdriau, of the opposition conservative party, said on BFMTV. "He has a direct responsibility in what is happening. He can't remain closed up in the Elysee."

France's yellow vest protesters have political stances ranging from the far right to the far left but the leaderless group is united in its sense that Macron and his government are out of touch.

"We are here to tell (Macron) our discontent. Me, I'm not here to break things because I have four children," said protester Myriam Diaz. "But I still want to be here to say 'Stop, that's enough.'"

Some protesters sang the French national anthem — "The Marseillaise" — as they confronted phalanxes of police in heavy riot gear. One protester in Paris showed an Associated Press reporter a fresh wound on his jaw, saying a rubber bullet fired by charging police had glanced his face.

"I was running with my hands up. They charged," said Ludovic, a 38-year-old cabinetmaker from the eastern city of Colmar. He only gave his first name, saying he feared being tracked by security authorities. He said he was fleeing the Champs-Elysees, choked with tear gas, when police moved in.

40 PHOTOS
Demonstrators wearing yellow vests riot, torch cars to protest against higher diesel fuel taxes in Paris
See Gallery
Demonstrators wearing yellow vests riot, torch cars to protest against higher diesel fuel taxes in Paris
A man takes a snapshot of charred cars the day after a demonstration, near the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot in the French capital, as activists torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A charred car is pictured the day after a demonstration, near the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot in the French capital, as activists torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Graffitis are pictured on the Arc de Triomphe the day after a demonstration, in Paris, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot in the French capital, as activists torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Workers are about to clean a graffiti, center, reading "yellow jackets will triumph" on the Arc de Triomphe the day after a demonstration, in Paris, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot in the French capital, as activists torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A woman takes a snapshot of charred cars the day after a demonstration, near the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot in the French capital, as activists torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A worker is about to clean a graffiti reading " Macron resignation" on the Arc de Triomphe the day after a demonstration, in Paris, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot in the French capital, as activists torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A charred car is pictured the day after a demonstration, near the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot in the French capital, as activists torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Demonstrator push charred car during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. Protesters angry about rising taxes clashed with French police for a third straight weekend and over 100 were arrested after pockets of demonstrators built barricades in the middle of streets in central Paris, lit fires and threw rocks at officers Saturday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Demonstrators are pictured from the top of the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. Demonstrations against rising taxes turned into scenes of rioting in Paris city center as at least 65 people including 11 police officers have been injured in violent protests in the French capital. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
A broken sculpture of Marianne, symbol of the French Repupblic, appears damaged in the gallery inside the Arc de Triomphe during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. A French protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot Saturday in Paris as police fired tear gas and water cannon in street battles with activists wearing the fluorescent yellow vests of a new movement. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
A demonstrator leaves as water cannons evacuate the Place de l'Etoile, near the Arc de Triomphe, Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. A French protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot Saturday in Paris as police fired tear gas and water cannon in street battles with activists wearing the fluorescent yellow vests of a new movement. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
A demonstrator watches a burning car near the Champs-Elysees avenue during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. French authorities have deployed thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and Emmanuel Macron's presidency. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
A hooded demonstrator throws an large wooden piece onto a fire during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. Protesters angry about rising taxes clashed with French police for a third straight weekend and over 100 were arrested after pockets of demonstrators built barricades in the middle of streets in central Paris, lit fires and threw rocks at officers Saturday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A hooded demonstrator throws an item as a car buns during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. Protesters angry about rising taxes clashed with French police for a third straight weekend and over 100 were arrested after pockets of demonstrators built barricades in the middle of streets in central Paris, lit fires and threw rocks at officers Saturday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Hooded demonstrators smash a car during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. Protesters angry about rising taxes clashed with French police for a third straight weekend and over 100 were arrested after pockets of demonstrators built barricades in the middle of streets in central Paris, lit fires and threw rocks at officers Saturday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A demonstrator runs pas a burning car during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. Protesters angry about rising taxes clashed with French police for a third straight weekend and over 100 were arrested after pockets of demonstrators built barricades in the middle of streets in central Paris, lit fires and threw rocks at officers Saturday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Demonstrators stand by the words "yellow jackets will triumph" written in black letters at the base of the Arc de Triomphe during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. Paris police say at least 63 people have been arrested in violent clashes between protesters and police amid nationwide demonstrations against rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's policies. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Un manifestante pasa frente a una barricada cerca del Arco del Triunfo en los Campos Elíseos, durante una protesta el sábado 1 de diciembre de 2018, en París. (AP Foto/Kamil Zihnioglu)
A demonstrator holds a French flag near the Arc de Triomphe during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. Paris police say at least 63 people have been arrested in violent clashes between protesters and police amid nationwide demonstrations against rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's policies. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
Demonstrators wearing yellow jackets face water cannons near the Champs-Elysees avenue during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. French authorities have deployed thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and Emmanuel Macron's presidency. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
Manifestantes vistiendo chalecos amarillos protestan en el Arco del Triunfo, durante los enfrentamientos con la policía el sábado 1 de diciembre de 2018, en París. (AP Foto/Thibault Camus)
Demonstrators, known as they yellow jackets, protest in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, against rising fuel costs and what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Demonstrators clash with police near burning barricades in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, during protests against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
A demonstrator kicks a teargas canister away during clashes with police in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, during protests against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
A man records the scene through clouds of teargas as demonstrators clash with police in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, during protests against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Police clash with demonstrators as Christmas trees burn in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, during protests against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Demonstrators run through clouds of teargas during clashes with police in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, during protests against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Demonstrators clash with police in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, during protests against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Police take position near a burning police car as they face demonstrators in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, protesting against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Police take position near to burning barricades made from garbage, as they face demonstrators in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, protesting against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Police take position near to burning barricades made from garbage, as they face demonstrators in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, protesting against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Police take position as they face demonstrators in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, protesting against what they claim were dilapidated residential buildings that collapsed Monday Nov. 5, killing eight people. French authorities on Saturday deployed some thousands of police on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue to try to contain protests by people angry over rising taxes and President Emmanuel Macron's government. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
France's President Emmanuel Macron shakes hand with a firefighter as he visits firefighters and riot police officers the day after a demonstration, in Paris, France December 2, 2018. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS
A yellow vest hangs inside a vandalized store the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
A yellow vest hangs inside a vandalized store front the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
A vandalized car is seen the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
A person makes a picture outside a vandalized restaurant the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
A man sweeps outside a vandalized store the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
A man jogs past a vandalized bank front the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
A vandalized bus stop is seen the morning after clashes with protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher diesel fuel taxes, in Paris, France, December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Even as blue armored trucks rumbled over cobblestone streets in Paris, a larger environmental march took place peacefully Saturday toward the city's Republique Plaza.

A scattering of yellow vests, as well as women, children and retirees, were among the 17,000 people marching to demand action against climate change. One sign read "No climate justice without fiscal and social justice."

Cyril, a 25-year-old garbage truck driver, came from Normandy with three others. He said he earns only 1,430 euros ($1,625) a month despite working 45 hours a week and has decided not to have children because doesn't feel he can earn enough to raise them. This was his third weekend of protesting in Paris.

"I've come to defend myself," he said, adding that he thought Macron's mistake was trying to reform the French economy too quickly. "He's done more in 18 months than the others in 30 years."

Macron on Wednesday agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, which aimed to wean France off fossil fuels and uphold the Paris climate agreement. Many economists and scientists say higher fuel taxes are essential to save the planet from worsening climate change, but that stance hasn't defused the anger among France's working class.

Late Saturday, after announcing that the violence in Paris had been "contained," Castaner, the interior minister, took a victory stroll down the Champs-Elysees.

Tear gas had dissipated and a standoff was over. It had pitted a line of security forces, backed by two armored vehicles, against protesters, some lobbing objects and cherry bombs to taunt police.

Protesters also blocked roads, traffic roundabouts and highway tollbooths elsewhere in France and offshoot movements emerged in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Belgian police fired tear gas and water cannon Saturday at yellow-vested protesters calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Charles Michel. The protesters in Brussels threw paving stones, road signs, fireworks, flares and other objects at police and about 100 were detained.

Across the ocean, U.S. President Donald Trump seized the moment to once again criticize the 2015 Paris climate accord that he is abandoning.

"People do not want to pay large sums of money ... in order to maybe protect the environment," he tweeted.

___

Angela Charlton, Lori Hinnant, Srdjan Nedeljkovic, Philippe Marion and Milos Krivokapic in Paris contributed.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.