French authorities arrested hundreds of people on Saturday as a new wave of Yellow Jacket protests got underway in Paris and across the country.
More than 500 people were stopped on the streets of the French capital, with some 270 placed in police custody, French media reported. Police also used tear gas on a group of protesters near the Champs-Elysées, where some 1,500 people had gathered and some threw makeshift hand grenades at gendarmes. Protesters also rallied in eastern and southern parts of the city.
The government mobilized nearly 90,000 police and gendarmes across the country, and stationed heavy armored vehicles near major monuments in anticipation of a fourth weekend of Yellow Jackets violence.
The Yellow Jackets protests grew out of discontent expressed on social media over a planned fuel-tax hike, which the French government has since abandoned. But the group has morphed into a broader movement protesting against President Emmanuel Macron, whom it accuses of ignoring the struggles of rural workers and others on low incomes. According to polls, a majority of French people support the movement.
The number of arrests made by noon on Saturday suggests authorities are taking a tougher approach to the protests. By comparison, Paris police made 412 arrests and placed 378 in custody last week. Only 103 people were stopped by police during protests in late November.
The interior ministry said Saturday it expects levels of violence “at least equal” to last week’s protests, when protesters ransacked shops and defaced monuments in the area around the Champs-Elysées.
Authorities put Paris largely in lock-down, with streets around the Champs-Elysées closed off to traffic and shops boarded up or closed to avoid damage. Some 10 museums — including the Louvre — plus the Eiffel Tower and big department stores also said they would be closed.
Similar demonstrations are taking place in cities and towns across the country, including in Marseille and Lyon, and in the suburbs of Paris.
In a show of solidarity with 153 students who were made to kneel in front of armed police on the outskirts of Paris earlier this week, some Yellow Jackets in Marseille protested by assuming the same position.
The protest movement also spilled across the border into Belgium, where 1,000 police officers have reportedly been mobilized to deal with an expected Yellow Jackets rally on Saturday. Some 70 people were stopped by police in Brussels in what authorities described as “preventative” measures, Agence France-Presse reported.
Some Yellow Jacket protesters also blocked off several big routes in Flanders, near the French border.