Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators in Paris as thousands staged road blockades across France to vent anger against rising fuel taxes and Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.
Thousands of police were deployed nationwide to contain the demonstrations, including a tense protest at the foot of the Champs-Elysees where protesters wielded placards reading “Death to Taxes” and upturned a large vehicle.
No-one was injured in the clashes, but six were arrested for “throwing projectiles” , police said.
“It’s going to trigger a civil war and me, like most other citizens, we’re all ready,” said Benjamin Vrignaud, a 21-year-old protester from Chartres.
The famous avenue was dotted from early morning with people clad in hi-vis vests, the uniform adopted by many of the protesters, who have been dubbed the “yellow jackets” as a result. Drivers in France are required by law to keep hi-vis vests in their vehicles.
Five thousand protesters flooded the Champs-Elysees alone, with 23,000 protesters in total nationwide, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
James Ward, 38, a financial adviser based in London who was in Paris for the weekend, said: “Anything not bolted down is being used to block roads and set on fire – they’re looting a building site in the Champs-Elysées, for example.
“We had no idea this was happening but arrived at Arc de Triomphe to tear gas raining from the skies.
“They’re firing it indiscriminately at crowds – the air is thick with it. We had to escape to a nearby pub coughing and eyes pouring.
“I can’t see this calming down any time yet. The crowds are building if anything and there’s an uneasy atmosphere mixed in with joviality. Strange.”
In a week of demonstrations that has dominated national news coverage, hundreds have been injured and two people died in accidents stemming from the protests.
The unrest is proving a major challenge for embattled Mr Macron, who is suffering in the polls and has become the focus of rage for the demonstrators, who accuse the pro-business centrist of indifference to the struggles of ordinary French people.
Mr Macron has insisted that fuel tax rises are a necessary pain to reduce France’s dependence on fossil fuels and fund renewable energy investments, which is a cornerstone of his reforms of the nation.
He will defend fresh plans to make the “energy transition” easier on Tuesday.
On Saturday, Paris deployed some 3,000 security forces, notably around tourist-frequented areas, after an unauthorised attempt last week to march on the presidential Elysee Palace.
The authorities are struggling to deal with the protests because the movement has no clear leader and has attracted a motley group of people with widely varying demands.