French yellow-vest protesters vandalise shops on Champs Elysees
Protesters start fires and clash with police as campaign against president enters 18th week
Large plumes of smoke rose above the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris on Saturday as French yellow-vest protesters set fires, smashed up luxury stores and clashed with police in a 18th straight weekend of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.
Police tried to contain the demonstrators with tear gas and water cannon. Fire trucks rushed to extinguish two newspaper kiosks that were set ablaze, sending black smoke high into the sky.
As demonstrators targeted symbols of the luxury industry, shops for high-end brands such as Hugo Boss and Lacoste were smashed up and pillaged, and mannequins thrown out of the broken windows. A posh eatery called Fouquet's, which is associated with politicians and celebrities, was vandalised and set on fire. A vehicle burned outside luxury boutique Kenzo, one of many blazes on and around the Champs Elysees.
The violence started when protesters threw smoke bombs and other objects at officers along the famed avenue – scene of repeated past rioting – and started pounding on the windows of a police van. Riot police then retreated, with protesters kicking the side of the large lorry.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said there were 7,000 to 8,000 demonstrators in Paris on Saturday of which 1,500 were "ultraviolent ones that are there to smash things up".
Pushing a hard line, Mr Castaner ordered police to retaliate against these "inadmissible" acts, condemning those who "call for violence and are here to ferment chaos in Paris".
After dwindling numbers in recent weekends, protesters are hoping their latest day of action can breathe new life into their movement against a president seen as favouring the elite.
Paris police said 64 people were arrested by early afternoon. Bracing for a rise in protester numbers and violence, the French capital deployed more police Saturday than on previous weekends. Police closed down several streets and fanned out around the Right Bank.
Yellow-vest groups representing teachers, unemployed people and labour unions were among those that organised dozens of rallies and marches in the capital and around France on Saturday.
The actions mark the end of a two-month national debate that Mr Macron organised to respond to protesters' concerns.
Protesters dismiss the debate as empty words and a campaign ploy by Mr Macron for European Parliament elections in May. They are angry over high taxes and Macron policies seen as coddling the business world.
"Those who participated in this great debate are mostly retirees and upper middle class, meaning Macron's electorate, even though we understood this great national debate was supposed to respond to the yellow-vest crisis," lawyer and protester Francois Boulo told Europe-1 radio.
In their online appeal for Saturday's protests, organisers said they wanted the day to serve as an "ultimatum" to "the government and the powerful".
Updated: March 16, 2019 07:10 PM