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Paris police use water cannon, tear gas as yellow vests mark anniversary

Some were seen throwing stones at officers and setting fire to street trash cans, a motorcycle and other urban equipment on Place d'Italie, in the southeast of the city


'Yellow vest' protesters return to French streets, storm ministry in Paris

Tear gas and water cannon were used Saturday as Paris police sought to disperse yellow vest protesters marking the first anniversary of the birth of their movement against government policies seen as favouring the rich.

Police deployed in force around the capital and had detained 46 people by early afternoon.

Police used tear gas as protesters tried to smash windows and enter into a shopping mall.

Some were seen throwing stones at officers and setting fire to street trash cans, a motorcycle and other urban equipment on Place d'Italie, in the southeast of the city.

Earlier, the windows of a bank and several bus shelters in the area had been broken, leading to several police charges.

Police have managed to dislodge protesters trying to block the bypass around Paris and sprayed repeated volleys of tear gas at groups gathered near Porte de Champerret, in the northwest, and Place d'Italie.

Protests were taking place around the country at traffic circles where the grassroots movement first took root in November 2018 in protest at plans to raise fuel taxes.

For weeks, the protesters brought large parts of the country to a standstill.

The outpouring of anger at perceived social and economic injustice eventually prompted President Emmanuel Macron to reverse some of his tax plans and to offer 10 billion euros (USD 11 billion) in measures to address protesters' concerns.

Some protesters in Paris wore the high-visibility vests drivers are required to carry in their cars that gave the movement its name.

Other demonstrators wore all black, their faces protected with gas masks.

Waving French flags, blowing whistles, and beating drums, some demonstrators marched in northwestern Paris streets, singing their trademark song: "We are here, we are here. Even if Macron doesn't want it, we are here." Dozens of police in riot gear guarded the Arc de Triomphe overlooking the Champs-Elysees, which was the scene of weekly rioting and police crackdowns at the height of last year's protests.

Corentin Pihel, 28, said he travelled to Paris from Montpellier to mark the movement's anniversary.

He joined the yellow vest movement two weeks after it began, identifying with its mission as a struggling student at the time.

"In the beginning, I found that the movement made a lot of sense, to mobilise from the bottom for better buying power," Pihel said.

"But after, it enlarged its communication to become much greater — it's just people who want to live. And I felt a real solidarity." Cathy Nauleau, 44, came to Paris from eastern France to participate as "we're still exactly in the same place but we won't give up." The French government has also pledged to cut taxes for households next year by 9 billion euros ($ 9.8 billion), a spending boost that has its roots in the yellow vest movement.

Rosa Drissi, who joined the movement on its first day, said she struggles to make ends meet with just 800 euros per month.

She said she's protesting "for my retirement, and for my buying power." Drissi said the movement has evolved since the start.

"We were novices at the beginning. We didn't know politics; we didn't know how to be in the streets. We didn't know how to protest," she said.

"We made errors, we made mistakes. That's normal." Now, they've honed their protest tactics, she said.

"We want to be heard. We want money — but just what we need." Natasha Weens said she joined the movement in January to push for "a democratic regime." "We don't want any more a representative democracy, but rather participative democracy," she said.

Some protesters in other countries subsequently adopted the yellow vests as a symbol of anti-government anger.

First Published: Sat, November 16 2019. 20:08 IST