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Clashes as Yellow Vests return to French streets after summer break

media A police vehicle is set on fire in Montpellier during the resumption of Yellow Vests protest across France, 7 September 2019. Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Police across France have clashed with Yellow Vest protesters hoping to inject fresh momentum into their anti-government protests calling for social justice and the ouster of President Emmanuel Macron. Despite violent scenes in the southern city of Montpellier, most protesters marched peacefully.

The Yellow Vest movement had tapered off over the summer, but its leaders are hoping to galvanise support for a fresh wave of rallies as the government embarks on a reform of France's retirement system.

Police said around 1,500 people gathered in the southern city of Montpellier, where a police car was set aflame by a firebomb as officers used tear gas to try to disperse the crowd.

Several storefronts were also vandalised, and police said three people had been detained.

While media attention has focused on the burning car, many marched peacefully through the streets.

Rallies of several hundreds of people were held in cities including Rouen, Strasbourg and Toulouse.

"We're all together, we want the government to drastically change its policies... and radical change can only come when this government resigns," said Alexandre Chantry, a Yellow Vest organiser in Lille.

However only a few dozen people demonstrated in Paris, where the authorities have maintained a ban on protests on the Champs-Elysees.

The famous avenue was the scene of burning cars, smashed storefronts and violent clashes with police after the Yellow Vest protests erupted last November.

Triggered by anger over a fuel tax increase, they quickly ballooned into a broad movement against Macron, accused of ignoring the day-to-day struggles of low-income earners in small-town and rural France.

The protests rocked Macron's presidency, and he eventually unveiled nearly 17 billion euros ($18.8 billion) in wage boosts and tax cuts for low earners to quell the protests, while vowing to better address voters' grievances after months of town-hall debates.

But after attracting 282,000 people nationwide at the first Yellow Vest marches on November 17, their numbers had fallen sharply by last spring, and only sporadic protests were seen over the summer.

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