PARIS (Reuters) – Rioters set fire to a bank and ransacked stores on Paris’ landmark shopping street in a new flare-up of violence as France’s yellow vest protests against President Emmanuel Macron and his pro-business reforms entered a fourth month.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon as the protests turned violent again after weeks of relative calm during marches and declining numbers of participants.
A Banque Tarneaud branch spewed flames before firefighters arrived and rescued two people from the building, with eleven suffering minor injuries, the fire department said.
Two news-stands on the Champs Elysees avenue caught fire and bonfires burned in the streets.
Protesters threw cobblestones at riot police through clouds of tear gas in front of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe monument, which was ransacked at the peak of the protests in December.
Police had arrested more 120 protesters by late afternoon as demonstrators looted stores around the Champs Elysees and ransacked the high-end Fouquet’s restaurant.
The interior ministry estimated 10,000 people had participated in the protest in Paris, compared with 2,800 the previous Saturday. Elsewhere in France, protesters were estimated at 4,500, compared with 4,200 last week.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that although the protest was relatively small, there were more than 1,500 “ultra violent” people out looking for trouble.
“They decided, perhaps as a swansong, to come attack – and I use their words – Paris,” he said, adding more than 1,400 police officers were mobilized.
“I’ve given instructions to the police this morning for great firmness so that nothing slips by,” he added.
A separate, peaceful march against climate change through central Paris drew as many 30,000 people, the interior ministry estimated.
Yellow vest protesters have promised to draw bigger numbers to mark the fourth month since the movement erupted in mid November, over since-scrapped fuel tax hikes and the high cost of living.
Named after the high visibility vests French drivers have to keep in their cars and worn by protesters, the revolt swelled into a broader movement against Macron and his reforms.
However, the weekly demonstrations, held every Saturday in Paris and other cities, have been generally getting smaller since December, when Paris saw some of the worst vandalism and looting in decades.
After the spike in violence, Macron offered a package of concessions worth more than 10 billion euros ($11 billion) aimed at boosting the incomes of the poorest workers and pensioners.
His government ordered police to crack down on the protests in January, leading to complaints of police brutality.
The 41-year-old former investment banker also launched a series of national debates which are aimed at determining what policies people want the government to focus on.
Saturday’s protests coincide with the end of the debates.
Additonal reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Mark Potter and Alexander Smith