'Yellow vests' burn bank building, ransack stores as Paris protests turn violent

Evarado Alatorre
Marcha 17, 2019

The fire service evacuated the residents and extinguished the blaze.

A mother of four children, including a nine-month-old baby, told AFP they escaped via the stairs after seeing the fire from their window.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who inspected the damage Saturday evening on the Champs-Elysees, said an estimated 10,000 yellow vest protesters were in Paris and another 4,500 had demonstrated around France.

"Macron, we're coming to get you at home", some of the protesters chanted, referring to the presidential palace near the Champs-Elysees.

"I'm going to spend two to three days here to rest and rediscover landscapes and faces that are dear to me", Macron told La Depeche du Midi newspaper.

The yellow vest groups represented teachers, unemployed people and labour unions.

What started out last November as a backlash against Mr Macron's plan to hike fuel taxes has swelled into a wider movement against the government for ignoring the hardship faced by poorer households in France.

That is a fraction of the 282,000 people they said took part in the inaugural demonstrations across France on November 17, but more than the previous weekend.

The rally coincides with the end of the public debates called by Macron to try take the heat out of the protests and give voters a forum to propose policy changes.

Around half a million people turned out at townhall-style meetings held around the country, but many "yellow-vest" protesters dismissed the consultation as a smokescreen.

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The yellow vest movement has faced accusations of anti-Semitism in recent weeks after a prominent Jewish philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was targeted by insults and taunts in Paris.

Protesters threw cobblestones at riot police through clouds of tear gas in front of Paris' Arc de Triumphed monument, which was ransacked at the peak of the protests in December.

Black-clad demonstrators encircled the square surrounding the arch, pelting the police with stones.

"There are a number of people who have come just to smash things", Castaner said, estimating that some 1,500 "ultra violent" activists had infiltrated the crowd.

On social media, "yellow vest" leaders had hinted at the arrival of sympathisers from Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and even Poland.

Restaurant "Le Fouquet's" set on fire during clashes with riot police forces on the Champs-Elysees during the 18th consecutive Saturday.

Over 5 000 police were deployed, along with several armoured police vehicles, and several metro stations were closed. He has loosened the state's purse strings to the tune of 10 billion euros ($11.2 billion) to try defuse the protests.

But the measures failed to quell the anger of the demonstrators, who accuse the former investment banker of being elitist and favouring the rich.

Protest organizers had hoped to make a splash Saturday, which marks the 4-month anniversary of the yellow vest movement, which started November 17, and the end of the "Great Debate" that the French president organized to respond to protesters' concerns about sinking living standards, stagnant wages and high unemployment. "We're here to show Macron that empty words are not enough", said yellow vest demonstrator Frank Leblanc, 62, from Nantes.

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