Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon in battles with protesters around the Arc de Triomphe near the Champs Elysees avenue, and clashes were reported in various parts of Paris as well as in towns and cities across France.
Police said they had arrested 169 people and some are concerned that violent far-right and far-left groups were infiltrating the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) movement, a spontaneous grassroots rebellion against the struggle many French face to make ends meet.
The skirmishes in Paris broke out early on Saturday, with rioters and peaceful protesters mixed together after authorities cordoned off the Champs Elysees, forcing them into adjacent streets.
Demonstrators put up barricades in the surrounding areas, smashed some car windows and set alight dozens of vehicles, including a police car. A restaurant in the vicinity was also set ablaze.
Several hundred yellow vests, who have no leader and have largely organised themselves online, sat down around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, singing La Marseillaise, France’s national anthem, and chanting for President Emmanuel Macron to resign.
On the facade of the towering 19th-century arch, protesters scrawled in big black letters: “The yellow vests will triumph.” Some protesters were later seen on top of the arch.
For now, the “yellow vests” enjoy widespread public support.
When they first began, the protests caught Macron off-guard just as he was trying to counter a fall in his popularity rating to 30 percent. His unyielding response has exposed him to charges of being out of touch with ordinary people.