French protesters angry over fuel taxes clash with police

Yellow vests (Gilet jaune) protestors shout slogans at riot police near the Place de la Concorde in Paris, on November 24, 2018, during a protest against rising oil prices and living costs. - Police fired tear gas and water cannon on November 24, in central Paris against "yellow vest" protesters demanding French President roll back tax hikes on motor fuel. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS — French police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators in Paris on Saturday, as thousands gathered in the capital and staged road blockades across the nation to vent anger against rising fuel taxes and Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.

Yellow vests (Gilet jaune) protestors shout slogans at riot police near the Place de la Concorde in Paris, on November 24, 2018, during a protest against rising oil prices and living costs.  (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of police were deployed nationwide to contain the demonstrations, including a tense protest at the foot of the Champs-Elysees where protesters burned barriers and large plywood sheets, wielded placards reading “Death to Taxes” and upturned a large vehicle.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in the clashes, but 18 were detained for various acts including for “throwing projectiles,” Paris police told The Associated Press.

“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 famed avenue was speckled with plumes of smoke and neon — owing to the color of the vests the myriad self-styled “yellow jacket” protesters don. French drivers are required to keep neon security vests in their vehicles.

Authorities said that 5,000 protesters flooded the Champs-Elysees alone, with 23,000 protesters in total nationwide.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner denounced protesters from the far-right whom he called “rebellious,” as he accused the Marine Le Pen, party leader of the National Assembly, of encouraging them.

In a week of demonstrations that has dominated national news coverage, hundreds have been injured and two people were killed in accidents stemming from the protests.

The Interior Ministry played down the scale of Saturday’s demonstrations by highlighting that last week’s protest comprised more than 100,000 protesters across the country.

The unrest is proving a major challenge for embattled Macron, who’s suffering in the polls and the focus of rage for the demonstrators, who accuse the pro-business centrist of indifference to the struggles of ordinary French.

Macron has insisted the fuel tax rises are a necessary pain to reduce France’s dependence on fossil fuels and fund renewable energy investments — 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 unauthorized attempt last week to march on the presidential Elysee Palace.

Authorities said protesters have so far not breached a no-go zone set up by authorities around key areas including the presidential palace and the National Assembly on the Left Bank of the Seine River.

But authorities are struggling because the movement has no clear leader and has attracted a motley group of people with broadly varying demands.

A man caused a dramatic standoff with police Friday when he donned a neon vest and brandished an apparent grenade at a supermarket in the western city of Angers. He was later arrested.

Taxes on diesel fuel have gone up seven euro cents (nearly eight U.S. cents) and are to keep climbing in the coming years, Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne has said. The tax on gasoline is to increase 4 euro cents. Gasoline currently costs about 1.64 euros a liter in Paris ($7.06 a gallon), slightly more than diesel.

“When tax is no longer agreed to, it’s the start of revolutions in France,” far left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon told BFMTV.

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