31,000 Yellow Vests protest in France, 700 held
PARIS: An estimated 31,000 people joined "yellow vest" anti-government protests across France today, deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez said, adding that 700 people had been detained.
"At the national level, including Paris, we're at more than 700 detained with participation in the movement at 31,000 nationwide including 8,000 in Paris," he told France 2 television.
Earlier in the day, police fired tear gas and arrested hundreds of people in Paris on Saturday as the French capital went on lockdown for the latest "yellow vest" protests against President Emmanuel Macron.
Shouts of "Macron, resign" mingled with the tear gas near the famous Champs-Elysees avenue, the scene last Saturday of the worst rioting in Paris for decades.
A forklift truck driver who gave his name as Denis said he was planning, like others, to march on Macron's presidential palace in anger against a leader who they say only looks out for the rich.
"I'm here for my son," said the 30-year-old, who had travelled down to Paris from the Normandy port of Caen. "I can't let him live in a country where the poor are exploited."
The protests began on November 17 with road blockades against rising fuel prices but have since ballooned into a mass movement against Macron's policies and top-down style of governing.
Coordinated "yellow vest" protests were taking place across the country on Saturday, including on numerous motorways, causing havoc on the national road network.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 481 people had been detained in Paris as police carried out checks on people arriving at train stations and at protest hotspots such as the Champs-Elysees and Bastille monument.
Among them were dozens arrested for carrying masks, hammers, slingshots and rocks that could be used to attack police.
Shops, museums, the Eiffel Tower and many metro stations were closed, while top-flight football matches and concerts have been cancelled.
Last weekend's violence, which saw some 200 cars torched and the Arc de Triomphe vandalised, shook France and plunged Macron's government into its deepest crisis so far.
"These past three weeks have produced a monster that its creators no longer control," Interior Minister Castaner said on Friday, vowing "zero tolerance" towards those aiming to wreak further