Bins were set on fire and tear gas was deployed near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Saturday morning as “Yellow Vest” protesters started their third day of national action.
Some 1,500 protesters wearing yellow vests gathered on the Place de L’Etoile, at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris, were clashes erupted shortly before 09:00 CET when protesters attempted to force their way through a police checkpoint.
The security measure was put in place to prevent a repeat of last Saturday when the demonstration in the French capital turned violent with protesters tearing down traffic lights and street signs and causing damage to local shops.
Eighty-one protesters have been arrested and 10 people were wounded including three police officers, Police spokeswoman Johanna Primevert told BFM TV.
Live footage showed tear gas shrouding the gigantic Arc in smoke, protesters ripping cobblestones out of the road to throw at police officers and water cannons spraying the crowd.
Hundreds of peaceful protesters, meanwhile, gathered just south of the Place de L’Etoile, on the Champs-Elysées.
Earlier in the morning Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters that the checkpoints had been set up to allow “those who want to protest to protest but prevent those who just want to cause damage.”
“We only ask to be allowed to control bags” to prevent weapons from accessing the area, he added.
Saturday marks the third day of national action for “Yellow Vest” activists who want President Emmanuel Macron to reverse his decision to increase taxes on fuel.
The nationwide movement has been ongoing for more than two weeks with protesters setting up road blockages throughout the country, significantly slowing down traffic and the delivery of goods.
Contrary to last week when protesters had been forbidden from gathering on the Champs Elysées — a highly-symbolic avenue near the presidential palace — authorities have this time allowed access and closed the street to traffic at 06:00 CET.
Officials said they expected some 5,000 police and gendarmes in the capital, up from about 3,000 last Saturday. Another 5,000 will be deployed across France for other yellow vests protests, which have so far remained peaceful.
Despite widespread public support for “yellow vests” — who take their name from the high-visibility jackets all motorists in France must carry in their vehicles — Macron has so far held steady.
His approval rating has tumbled to just 26%, according to a recent Ipsos poll.