Unrest returns to Paris with worst yellow vest violence in weeks

A restaurant on fire during clashes between riot police and'gilets jaunes on the Champs-Elysees Paris on 16 March

A restaurant on fire during clashes between riot police and'gilets jaunes on the Champs-Elysees Paris on 16 March

Large plumes of smoke are rising above Paris' landmark Champs-Elysees avenue as French yellow vest protesters set life-threatening fires, smashed up luxury stores and clashed with police in a 18th straight weekend of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.

The rioting comes at the end of a two-month national debate that President Macron organised to respond to protesters' concerns about sinking living standards, stagnant wages and high unemployment.

The demonstrators also set fire to a bank situated on the ground floor of an apartment building, which was engulfed by flames.

Demonstrators have looted shops in Paris in a resurgence of the gilets jaunes ("yellow vest") protests that started four months ago in France. Eleven people, including two fire fighters, suffered minor injuries, the fire service told AFP.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner condemned the violence as the work of "professional trouble-makers" who had "infiltrated" the march and said he had ordered police to "react with the greatest firmness to these unacceptable attacks".

The protests came a day after President Emmanuel Macron arrived in the southwestern Pyrenees mountains with his wife Brigitte for a short ski break, an AFP photographer reported.

After weeks of declining participation, France's "yellow vest" protest movement attempted to rebound with a major rally in Paris which quickly turned violent.

Last week, only around 28,000 people took to the streets across France, according to the authorities.

Riot police charge using tear gas canister at the Arc de Triomphe on the Place de l'Etoile in Paris
Riot police charge using tear gas canister at the Arc de Triomphe on the Place de l'Etoile in Paris

Riot police and a water cannon retreated.

The yellow vest movement has faced accusations of anti-Semitism in recent weeks after a prominent Jewish philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was targeted by insults and taunts in Paris. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. "He also said the crowd included 1,500 'ultraviolent ones who are there to smash things up, '" the AP reported.

On social media, "yellow vest" leaders had hinted at the arrival of sympathisers from Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and even Poland.

From early morning protesters began pouring into the capital by train and vehicle from around the country for what they called an "ultimatum" to Macron. Police closed down several streets and fanned out around the Right Bank.

But the measures failed to quell the anger of the demonstrators, who accuse the former investment banker, of being in the pocket of the rich.

Protesters dismiss Macron's national debate on the economy as empty words and a campaign ploy by Macron to gain support for the European Parliament elections in May.

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A Yellow Vest protester holds up a placard reading "In tribute to the Yellow Vests protesters that have died and been wounded since 17.11.18" on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on March 16, 2019, during the 18th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations called by the "Yellow Vest" (gilets jaunes) movement.

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