Tension flared in the French capital on Saturday as the police clashed with the so called “yellow vest” protesters, using tear gas in an attempt to disperse them.
A cohort of officers garbed in riot gear blocked protesters trying to access the iconic Champs-Élysées avenue from an adjacent street by using tear gas, EFE news reported.
Following a meeting with Interior Ministry officials, Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe told reporters that there had been 481 arrests so far, with 211 people being held in custody at different police stations.
About 5,000 demonstrators gathered in the city centre on Saturday to carry out their fourth round of anti-government protests. Some 8,000 officers and 12 armoured vehicles were deployed in Paris alone and nearly 90,000 in the country as a whole.
Key tourist attractions in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum remained closed along with up to 40 subway and train stations. Six matches in the top tier of France’s football league were postponed.
The “yellow vest” movement began three weeks ago in opposition to a rise in fuel tax and planned increases in taxes on polluting forms of transport, but it has since evolved into broader demonstrations against the government of President Emmanuel Macron.
Protesters are now also demanding higher wages, lower taxes, better pensions, easier university requirements and even the resignation of the President. Ministers say the movement has been hijacked by “ultra-violent” protesters.
On social media, some activists called for attacks on the police and the Élysee Palace in an “Act IV” drama.
Issuing a plea, the capital’s Mayor Anne Hidalgo said: “Take care of Paris on Saturday because it belongs to all the French people.”
The French press has billed the unrest as Macron’s “greatest political test” since taking office in May 2017.