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Yellow Vests: spur of violence as protests gain momentum

media A newspaper stand was set on fire on Paris' Champs-Elysées avenue. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Some 32,300 protesters demonstrated in France for the 18th weekend of Yellow Vest protests, according to the Ministry of Interior. In Paris, violence erupted on the Champs-Elysées Avenue, with shops looted and a building set on fire.

Yellow Vest protests in Paris descended into violence on Saturday, as some hardline demonstrators looted and torched shops and businesses on Paris' famed Champs-Elysees avenue.

A Boss menswear store and the upscale Fouquet's restaurant -- a brasserie popular with politicians and film stars - were among the premises to have their windows smashed by groups of hooded demonstrators in scenes reminiscent of the worst "yellow vest" riots in Paris in December.

The demonstrators also set fire to a bank situated on the ground floor of an apartment building, which was engulfed by flames. The fire service evacuated the residents and extinguished the blaze. Eleven people, including two fire fighters, suffered minor injuries, the fire service told AFP.

10000 protesters in Paris

By late afternoon, up to 10,000 people were demonstrating in central Paris, according to Interior Ministry figures. Of that number, some 1,500 were “ultraviolent” individuals whose aim was to cause destruction and to fight, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.

Police arrested dozens of protesters and fired tear gas and water cannon in front of the Arc de Triomphe, the scene of angry protests in December.

Media reports say the Yellow Vests started bonfires, set cars alight and threw cobblestones at police as they sought to drum up new momentum for their four-month-old revolt against President Emmanuel Macron and his pro-business reforms.

The protests came a day after President Emmanuel Macron arrived in the southwestern Pyrenees mountains with his wife Brigitte for a short ski break, an AFP photographer reported.

Protests regain momentum after National Debate

The 18th Yellow Vest protest comes a day after France wrapped up two months of national debate on the country’s social and economic problems. Turnout for the weekly demonstrations, held in cities across France, has been getting smaller since December, when they were overshadowed by looting and vandalism.

Shops were ransacked and bonfires lit by hardline elements at Paris' Champs Elysée avenue, 16 March 2019 REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Castaner blamed Saturday’s violence on troublemakers who infiltrated the demonstrations, and he ordered police to respond to the attacks with “the greatest firmness". In a tweet, Castaner said: “Let there be no doubt: they are looking for violence and are there to sow chaos in Paris."

There have been accusations of police brutality in past Yellow Vest protests.

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