PARIS — French police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators in Paris Saturday, as thousands gathered in the capital and staged road blockades across the nation to vent anger against rising fuel taxes and Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.
Thousands of police were deployed nationwide to contain the demonstrations, including a tense protest at the foot of the Champs-Elysees where protesters wielded placards reading “Death to Taxes” and upturned a large vehicle.
No one was injured in the clashes, but six were arrested for “throwing projectiles,” Paris Police told The Associated Press.
“It’s going to trigger a civil war and me, like most other citizens, we’re all ready,” said Benjamin Vrignaud, a 21-year-old protester from Chartres.
The famed avenue was speckled from the early morning in neon — owing to the color of the vests the myriad self-styled “yellow jacket” protesters don. French drivers are required to keep neon security vests in their vehicles.
Five thousand protesters flooded the Champs-Elysees alone, with 23,000 protesters in total nationwide, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
In a week of demonstrations that has dominated national news coverage, hundreds have been injured and two people died in accidents stemming from the protests.
The unrest is proving a major challenge for embattled Macron, who’s suffering in the polls and the focus of rage for the demonstrators, who accuse the pro-business centrist of indifference to the struggles of ordinary French.
Macron has insisted that the fuel tax rises are a necessary pain to reduce France’s dependence on fossil fuels and fund renewable energy investments, which is a cornerstone of his reforms of the nation. He will defend fresh plans to make the “energy transition” easier on Tuesday.
On Saturday, Paris deployed some 3,000 security forces, notably around tourist-frequented areas, after an unauthorized attempt last week to march on the presidential Elysee Palace.
Authorities said protesters have so far not breached a no-go zone set up by authorities around key areas including the presidential palace and the National Assembly on the Left Bank of the Seine River.
But authorities are struggling because the movement has no clear leader and has attracted a motley group of people with broadly varying demands.
A man caused a dramatic standoff with police Friday when he donned a neon vest and brandished an apparent grenade at a supermarket in the western city of Angers. He was later arrested.
Taxes on diesel fuel have gone up 7 euro cents (nearly 8 U.S. cents) and are to keep climbing in the coming years, Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne has said. The tax on gasoline is to increase 4 euro cents. Gasoline currently costs about 1.64 euros a liter in Paris ($7.06 a gallon), slightly more than diesel.