'Yellow vests' burn bank building, ransack stores as Paris protests turn violent

Le Fouquet's brasseries- frequented by politiicans and film stars- was targetted

The fresh round of protests coincided with the end of President Emmanuel Macron's "Grand Debat", a series of national debates around France which asked people what they want the government to focus on.

Cobblestones flew in the air and smoke from fires set by protesters mingled with clouds of tear gas sprayed by police, as tensions continued for hours along the Champs-Elysees.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is vowing to "severely punish" the radicals responsible for rioting and setting fires around one of France's richest neighborhoods.

Protesters were out in force today, pouring into the capital from around the country. "No cause justifies this violence", he added.

Castaner ordered police to retaliate against these "inadmissible" acts, condemning those who "call for violence and are here to ferment chaos in Paris".

The yellow vest movement has faced accusations of anti-Semitism in recent weeks after a prominent Jewish philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was targeted by insults and taunts in Paris. But the interior ministry estimated the turnout in Paris Saturday at 10,000, out of around 32,300 nationwide.

"We are dealing with several hundred, several thousand in some cases, highly determined people who are there to create disorder", he said.

While the rioters drew most attention Saturday, most of the protesters remain peaceful.

The police said more than 100 people have been arrested so far.

The bank set alight was on the ground floor of an apartment building, and fire firefighters had to quickly evacuate the residents, including a nine-month-old baby. Eleven people, including two fire fighters, suffered minor injuries, the fire service told AFP.

The violence left 17 members of the police injured, and 42 protesters, said police.

Luxury handbag store Longchamp was among the shops targeted by the rioters on the Champs-Elysees
Luxury handbag store Longchamp was among the shops targeted by the rioters on the Champs-Elysees

Laurent Casanova, an engineer who was among the protesters on Saturday, told AFP he wanted to mark the end of the debates.

Later, the water cannon unleashed bursts from a side street to try to push protesters back.

But many "yellow vests" dismissed the consultation exercise as a smoke-screen.

Using banners and construction barriers as shields the "black bloc" protesters ripped up paving stones which they used to smash shop windows and attack the police.

Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, tweeted that those who set the bank on fire "are neither demonstrators nor troublemakers: they are killers".

"We have been too nice, that's why it's violent today".

The presidency later announced that Macron was returning home from La Mongie ski resort where he and his wife Brigitte arrived Thursday to spend the weekend.

From early morning protesters began pouring into the capital by train and vehicle from around the country for what they called an "ultimatum" to Macron.

Named after the high-visibility vests French drivers have to keep in their cars and worn by protesters, the revolt swelled into a broader movement against Macron, his reforms and elitism. The grassroots movement appears to be fizzling out but some are trying to ignite protestors again.

But the measures failed to quell the anger of the demonstrators, who accuse Macron, a centrist former investment banker, of being beholden to high finance. Bracing for a potential uptick in protester numbers and violence, the French capital deployed more police Saturday than in previous weekends.

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