“I’m retired and [French President Emmanuel] Macron’s fuel price increases are eating away at my purchasing power,” said a 68-year-old Yellow Vest protester and former factory worker. “I’m scared for my grandchildren’s future so I came to show solidarity.”
Saturday’s demonstrations were characterised by running battles between well-equipped security forces and groups of angry protesters. The police used teargas, flash-balls and water cannons while some protesters responded with stone-throwing, flares and fireworks.
Protesters broke in to the entrance of the Arc de Triomphe, gaining access to the roof. Some people were seen brandishing makeshift weapons made from objects stolen from the visitor centre. At one point the security forces stormed the Arc de Triomphe itself, firing teargas to try and disperse people.
Police blocked all 12 roads leading to the site in the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle, leaving protesters nowhere to go.
“Where should we go? We can’t go here, we can’t go there. They push us back, but where should we go,” shouted an exasperated 33-year-old who only gave his name as Cedric, complaining to the police that they were hemmed in. “All the roads are shut, they push us back and say go over there, but we can’t,” added the driver from Dijon, who was attending his second gilets jaunes protest.
Three weeks of protests were sparked by plans to hike fuel prices and have grown into a movement expressing a general sense of discontent with President Macron’s government.
Some 75,000 people across the country took part in protests, according to the French interior ministry. The first day of protests on 17 November attracted more than 280,000.
Authorities said 194 people were arrested and 92 people injured including 14 police officers, according to the AFP news agency.
At least a dozen cars were torched, bus stops destroyed and countless windows smashed in the area surrounding the Arc de Triomphe. Tourists, some with suitcases, also got caught up in the protests, finding themselves at the centre of the demonstrations.
“It’s surely exciting or rather frightening,” said a German visitor, who was on a weekend break. “I think they have reasonable political concerns and are expressing them intensely.”
The level of violence on Saturday was too much for some of the Yellow Vests themselves. At least one group, a mother with her two children, was seen by RFI deciding to try and leave the area owing to the amount of teargas and violence.