Tear gas and water cannons have been fired by riot police in France amid a desperate struggle to control violent protests of tens of thousands of French citizens furious at President Emmanuel Macron over skyrocketing fuel prices.
French police locked horns with thousands of angry protesters who stormed the streets with placards wearing yellow vests before hurling objects at riot police and starting fires. Shocking images show demonstrators waving an array of flags and ramming metal barriers into police, with some being dragged away from the scene by officers.
Paris is currently under a fog of tear gas, with demonstrators also being targeted with water cannons to fire at police. Officers are also seen edging closer to protestors using a wall of their shields.
A trailer was set on fire and exploded on the Champs Elysees and a man who tried to attack fire fighters was overpowered by some of the demonstrators themselves.
The worst violence took place on the most famous avenue in the city where a huge crowd called for President Emmanuel Macron to resign.
The unrest has erupted over spiking fuel prices in the country and is pilling pressure on the government.
A police officer at the scene said: “They included hooded demonstrators who were determined to cause trouble.
“We’ve been forced to deploy a water cannon and use tear gas to stop them getting to a secure zone.
“They’re breaking up traffic obstacles to create missiles to throw at us. It’s getting very violent.”
On the nearby Avenue de Friedland, police fired special rubber balls at protesters to control rioters.
The zone included the Elysee Palace – Mr Macron’s official home – and the Place de la Concorde, opposite the National Assembly, France’s parliament.
The Yellow Vests – gilets jaunes in French – are named after the high visibility jackets they wear.
They have been conducting a grassroots campaign against escalating petrol and diesel prices.
Senior French ministers have slammed the ‘radicalisation’ and ‘anarchy’ involved, claiming far-Right and hard-Left elements have hijacked the protests.
Two road deaths have been linked with the protests so far – both at illegal road blocks set up by the Yellow Vests.
There have also been 553 woundings, 17 of them serious.
More than 95 police have been hurt in a variety of disturbances, including an attempt to storm the Elysee Palace last weekend.
Riot police arrested 22 people in Paris and at protests in other parts of the country.
Two people have been killed in the protests so far, including a 62-year-old woman who was run over by a motorist who panicked after her car was surrounded by demonstrators.
Some 3,000 police were on the streets of central Paris today, where the protesters pledged to bring the city to a standstill.
By 11am, clouds of tear gas covered the Champs Elysee and especially the area close to the place de la Concorde.
Running battles were taking place between mobile squads of CRS police, and the demonstrators, as objects were thrown between the two.
The Champ de Mars – the field next to the Eiffel Tower – had been set aside by the Paris authorities for the demonstration, but it was ignored by the protestors.
‘We’re not here to do what officials tell us,’ said Max Lefevre, a 22-year-old student taking part in the demonstrations.
A poll this week indicated that 73 percent of people in France have expressed support for the protests, which have been characterised as a grassroots movement lacking in clear leadership.
Mr Macron admitted failing to “reconcile the French with their leaders” and had “not given them enough consideration” but is standing firm and refusing to back the fuel taxes.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner accused far-right leader Marine Le Pen of fanning the protests in the capital.
He said: ”The ultra-right is mobilised and is building barricades on the Champs Elysees. They are progressively being neutralised and pushed back by police.”
In a message on Twitter, Le Pen said she had questioned why no protests were being allowed in the area.
She said: ”Today Mr Castaner is using this to target me. This is low and dishonest.”
French police said that “the 45-year-old was holding a grenade in his hands, demanding “the yellow vests be received at the Élysée” Palace, the president’s official residence in Paris.”
The protests are over nationwide fury about the rise of fuel costs with diesel, the most commonly used fuel in French cars, rising by around 23 percent over the past 12 months to an average of €1.51 (£1.32) per litre.
The cost of the fuel is at its highest in France since the millennium.
To make matters worse, French President Emmanuel Macron then raised the nation’s hydrocarbon tax this year by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol as on January 1 2019.
He did this under a campaign for cleaner cars and fuel – but this was seen as the final straw by demonstrators.
Mr Macron blamed rising world oil prices for the price rise and added more tax on fossil fuels was needed to fund renewable energy investments.
Since coming to power, Macron has seen off trade union and street demonstrations against his changes to the labour rules, and overhauled the heavily indebted state rail operator. Foreign investors have largely cheered his pro-business administration.
But political foes have dismissed him as the “president of the rich” for ending a wealth tax, and voters appear to be growing restless, with the 40-year-old president’s popularity slumped at barely 20 percent.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
November 24th, 2018