Paris on high alert as city shuts down for 'yellow vest' protests

Paris on high alert as city shuts down for 'yellow vest' protests

Paris on high alert as city shuts down for 'yellow vest' protests

"We can not take the risk when we know the threat", Culture Minister Franck Riester told RTL radio, adding that far-right and far-left agitators were planning to hijack rallies by "yellow vest" protesters in Paris.

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 neighbourhood.

Several thousand protesters, a lot of them male and dressed in "gilets jaunes", the yellow high-visibility jackets that have become the symbol of the movement, took part in demonstrations, converging on the Champs-Elysees around midday local time.

After a month of protests inspired by a new fuel tax, there are fears the "yellow vest" movement has been infiltrated by radical and violent protesters.

Security officials imposed a lockdown on parts of central Paris, determined to prevent a repeat of the rioting a week ago that damaged a major monument, injured 130 people and tarnished the country's global image.

They were clad in yellow hi-vis vests, the symbol of a movement that began as a protest against rises in tax on diesel and has quickly turned into a wider expression of discontent with the government. Macron agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, but that hasn't defused the anger, embodied by the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists are required to keep in their cars.

"It has been another day of extraordinary levels of violence here in Paris".

Police fired tear gas, used water cannon and horses to charge at protesters, but there was less violence than last week, when rioters torched 112 cars and looted shops in the worst rioting in Paris since May 1968.

Protesters who came to Paris from Normandy described seeing officers block yellow-vested passengers from boarding public transportation at stops along their route.

By early evening, the Champs-Elysees was mostly cleared of demonstrators and calm had returned to most areas targeted by the protesters.

About 31,000 people joined the "Yellow Vests" movement in protest across France around midday, junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said in an interview with France 2. An AP video journalist was wounded in the leg as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on the Champs-Elysees. Subway stations in the centre of town were shut down. By 8:40 am (0740 GMT) police had already detained 278 people. No injuries have been reported.

About 89,000 police were deployed across the country.

Authorities say the protests have been hijacked by far-right and anarchist elements bent on violence and stirring up social unrest. "We know that the violent people are only strong because they hide themselves within the yellow vests, which hampers the security forces", he said Saturday.

Macron himself, the target of much of the protesters' ire, has been largely invisible in recent days, leaving his prime minister and government to try to negotiate with protesters.

Four people have been killed in accidents since the protests began on November 7. Top-flight football matches and concerts were cancelled.

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 have also blocked roads, roundabouts and tollbooths elsewhere in France. Anti-government yellow vest rallies also took place in nearby Belgium and the Netherlands.

Since then Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has floated the idea of a bonus payment for low-paid workers.

Earlier in Brussels, police used pepper spray and scuffled with a small group of protesters who tried to break through a barricade blocking access to the European Parliament and the European Union's other main institutions.

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