'Riot police and protesters have fought running battles in the centre of Paris as gilets jaunes anti-government demonstrators in fluorescent yellow vests led street marches over what they called “a crisis” of high taxes and economic inequality.
Less than a week after the fire that destroyed the roof and spire of Notre Dame Cathedral, firefighters rushed to put out multiple small fires around the Place de la République, as motorbikes, bins, bicycles and cars were set alight on roads and pavements. Groups of masked men threw projectiles and police fired teargas. Some rioters in masks smashed the window of a sports shop and ran in to loot it, emerging with bags full of goods.
The interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said on Saturday that Paris could become “the capital of rioting”, suggesting extremist demonstrators planned to attend the street marches. Politicians from Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche party said “black bloc” masked anarchist protesters were present.
The street demonstrations had begun peacefully in Paris on Saturday morning – the latest in five months of gilets jaunes demonstrations that began as a fuel-tax revolt in November and have morphed into an anti-protest movement in response to the government’s tax and social policies.
Marching from outside the economy ministry, protesters calmly carried French flags with slogans against Macron written on their yellow vests, such as: “Macron, you take from the poor to give to the rich.”
Some carried banners slamming the “hypocrisy” of wealthy billionaires pledging a total of more than €1bn (£865m) to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral, saying business leaders had done nothing to address low salaries and the plight of people who couldn’t make ends meet. “Humans first, €1bn for the gilets jaunes,” read one banner.
“Millions for Notre Dame, what about for us, the poor?” read a sign worn by a demonstrator. “Everything for Notre Dame, nothing for Les Misérables,” read another sign that evoked Victor Hugo’s novel.'
Read more: Millions for Notre Dame – but nothing for us, say gilets jaunes
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