Cities across France are witnessing an eruption of fury as protesters demanding lower taxes and the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron fill the streets and clash with police.
Paris saw the wildest protests, according to the Interior Ministry, while other cities also reported angry demonstrations as part of the so-called “Yellow Vest” movement against fuel-price hikes imposed as part of a program intended to combat climate change.
The distinctive fluro garments, required by law to be carried in every car and worn in the event of a flat tyre or other breakdown, have become symbols of the movement.
What was initially a spontaneous outpouring of dissatisfaction about one issue has broadened to include demands for lower taxes generally, immigration reform and protests against the Macron government.
Many protesters are draped in French flags which protest spokespeople said were symbols of their patriotic desire to “restore and hope and dignity” to the nation.
A total of 35 people were arrested during the nationwide protests, and another 22 were taken into police custody, the ministry said on Saturday.
In the capital, protesters were met by police who deployed tear gas and water cannon to control the crowd.
Masked protesters in the city centre erected barricades, destroyed furniture and threw bricks, bottles, paving stones and other items at police.
Demonstrators also tried to break through barricades and reach the Elysee Palace, the office of President Emmanuel Macron, which had been designated as a no-protest zone.
Macron, whose popularity is at an all-time low, rebuked the rioters in an official statement.
“Shame on those who attacked the security forces, shame on those who were violent towards other citizens and journalists,” he wrote on Twitter.
Some 8000 protesters turned up for the demonstration in Paris, including 5000 on the famous Champs Elysees, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters.
Local media posted a photograph of a truck on fire on the famous boulevade.
Earlier in the day, Castaner had described the movement as “weakening” – a claim at odds with images of streets billowing with tear gas and the smoke of burning vehicles.
The demonstrations have been organised mainly on social media by supporters of the largely leaderless movement.
There have also been smaller protests, including blockades of motorways and fuel depots.
Seemingly baffled by the wide scale, popularity and vague demands of the movement, Macron’s government has promised measures to help drivers, but has refused to cancel planned fuel tax rises that it says are needed to protect the environment and fight climate change.