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Yellow vest protests hit with police water cannon, tear gas in Paris

Thousands of protesters in Paris marched noisily but mostly peacefully through the Grands Boulevards shopping area in northern Paris.

Protesters build a barricade during a protest of yellow vests against rising oil prices and living costs, on 1 December, 2018 in Paris. Picture: AFP

PARIS - Paris police fired water cannon and tear gas to push back “yellow vest” demonstrators from around the Arc de Triomphe monument on Saturday, in the ninth straight weekend of protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms.

Thousands of protesters in Paris marched noisily but mostly peacefully through the Grands Boulevards shopping area in northern Paris, close to where a massive gas explosion in a bakery killed two firefighters and a Spanish tourist and injured nearly 50 people early on Saturday.

But small groups of demonstrators broke away from the designated route and threw bottles and other projectiles at the police.

Around the 19th-century Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs Elysees boulevard, riot police fired water cannon and tear gas at militant protesters after being pelted with stones and paint, witnesses said.

Groups of protesters also gathered on and around the Champs Elysees, the scene of disturbances in recent weeks, many of them calling loudly for Macron to resign.

“Macron, we are going to tear down your place!” one banner read.

The Interior Ministry estimated that there were a maximum of about 84,000 demonstrators nationwide on Saturday - more than the 50,000 counted last week but well below the record 282,000 estimated on Nov. 17, the first day of the protests.

In Paris, the ministry counted 8,000 demonstrators, more than in the past two weekends, when authorities tallied just 3,500 people on Jan. 5 and only 800 on 29 December.

Much of central Paris was in lockdown on the first week of post-Christmas sales, with bridges across the Seine river closed and official buildings such as parliament and the Elysee presidential palace protected by police barriers.

In Paris, 156 “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) protesters were arrested, some for carrying objects that could be used as weapons, police said. As of 2000 GMT, 108 remained in custody. Nationwide, 244 people had been arrested, of which 201 remained in custody.

By nightfall, there had been no looting or burning of cars as seen in previous weeks and traffic circulation had resumed around the Arc de Triomple area.

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