French police clashed in Paris on Saturday with protesters staging a fourth weekend of “gilets jaunes” demonstrations against the government of President Emmanuel Macron.
Officers fired rubber bullets and hundreds of canisters of tear gas at the demonstrators, some of whom had set several vehicles on fire. At least 30 people were reported wounded, including three police officers, with 475 people taken into custody.
Two photographers from the newspaper Le Parisien were hit by projectiles. One was taken to hospital as dusk drew near in a city still in shock from last weekend’s riots — the worst to hit the French capital in decades. One Paris resident, teacher Francesca Testi, tweeted a video of gilets jaunes protesters smashing up what appeared to be a cafe.
Another French radio reporter, Boris Kharlamoff, tweeted a photo of his wounded stomach after being hit by a rubber bullet.
“A policeman shot at me with a rubber bullet even though my press arm band was showing,” he wrote. “It hurts but it’s alright. Colleagues be careful on the Champs-Elysees.”
Several thousand protesters, most of them male and dressed in “gilets jaunes,” the yellow high-visibility jackets that have become the symbol of the movement, took part in demonstrations, converging on the Champs-Elysees around midday local time. Police then used water cannons in a bid to disperse the crowd.
Tires were also set on fire, but with riot police outnumbering the demonstrators by about two to one, there were none of the violent scenes that grabbed international attention a week ago.
A smaller “yellow vest” demonstration of around 500 people also took place in the Belgian capital Brussels near the European Parliament, according to the newspaper Le Soir. Scuffles broke out between police and protesters and 70 people were arrested.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump claimed the “gilets jaunes” protests, which started in protest against an eco-tax on gas, underscored his decision not to sign the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
“The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris,” he tweeted. “Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting ‘We Want Trump!’ Love France.”
CNN reporters on the ground say the only time they heard Trump mentioned was as a joke when they were recording.
Earlier, TV images showed French protesters parading past the flagship stores of some of Paris’s best-known luxury brands such as Mont Blanc and Cartier, all with their shutters tightly fastened on what would normally be a busy shopping day before Christmas.
Anticipating a repeat of last weekend’s violence, monuments including the Eiffel Tower and many of the French capital’s metro stations remained closed with about 8,000 police on the streets of Paris with tens of thousands more deployed across the country.
A spokesman for the French Interior Ministry said there were about 31,000 protesters on the streets across France, compared to 36,000 this time last week.
“We have to change the Republic,” Ilda, a yellow jacket protester from the south of France near Toulouse, told CNN. “People here are starving. Some people earn just 500 euros a month you can’t afford to live. People don’t want to stop because we want the President to go.”
Patrice, a pensioner from Paris, said he was protesting because of “the government and the taxes and all these problems. We have to survive.”
With more riots expected in other parts of the country, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government was deploying 89,000 security force members across the country.
The French retail sector has suffered a loss in revenue of about $1.1 billion since the beginning of the yellow vest protests last month, a spokeswoman for the French retail federation, Sophie Amoros, told CNN.
Amid heightened tensions, police seized 28 petrol bombs and three homemade explosive devices Friday at an area blockaded by protesters in Montauban in southern France, a spokesman for the Tarn-et-Garonne prefecture told CNN.
Dominique Moisi, a foreign policy expert at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne and a former Macron campaign adviser, told CNN the French presidency was not only in crisis but that Europe’s future also hung in the balance.
“In a few months from now, there will be European elections, and France was supposed to be the carrier of hope and European progress. What happens if it’s no longer? If the President is incapacitated to carry that message?” Moisi asked.
“It’s about the future of democracy, as well; illiberal democracies are rising all over the world. And if Macron fails, the future of France risks looking like the presidency of Italy today. And it’s much more serious because we have a centralized state, which plays a major role in the balance of power within Europe.
“But make no mistake, it is a French version of a much more global phenomenon.”
France’s far left CGT movement has pledged support for the movement, which is also supported by the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.