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Yellow vest movement: Paris police fire tear gas at protesters

Media captionProtesters surged forward before tear gas was fired

Police in Paris have fired tear gas on protesters as a fourth weekend of anti-government protests turns violent.

About 5,000 demonstrators have gathered in the city centre, and at least 211 people have been arrested.

Some 8,000 officers and 12 armoured vehicles have been deployed in Paris alone, and nearly 90,000 in the country as a whole.

The “yellow vest” movement opposed fuel tax rises but ministers say it’s been hijacked by “ultra-violent” protesters.

Last week, hundreds of people were arrested and scores injured in violence in Paris – some of the worst street clashes in the French capital for decades.

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What is happening this weekend?

About 5,000 people gathered on the Champs-Elysées and marched a short distance to a police cordon, where they stopped.

There have been a few confrontations, with police firing tear gas at protesters in a side street as tensions flared.

The gas is believed to be phosgene, much stronger than substances used previously.

Le Monde journalist Aline Leclerc tweeted (in French) that there were fewer protesters, and that police were searching bags and confiscating items such as helmets and spectacles.

She said that the demonstrators were mostly men aged between 20 and 40, with women and older men apparently put off by the threat of violence.

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AFP

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Protesters were able to march some distance along the Champs-Elysées

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AFP

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There is a heavier security presence than on previous weekends of the protests

The BBC’s Hugh Schofield, on the Champs-Elysées, says he was told by protesters that their masks, used to protect against tear gas, had also been removed by police.

Police have stopped more than 480 people in Paris and at least 211 are in custody.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the numbers of arrests were greater than during the whole of the previous weekend.

“We will ensure that the rest of Saturday unfolds in the best possible conditions,” he said.

Meanwhile on the outskirts of Paris, protesters blocked Porte Maillot, one of the main routes into the city from the outer ring road. Yellow vests briefly stopped traffic on the ring road itself, the Boulevard Périphérique, before being cleared by police.

Correspondents say more hotspots are possible on the edge of the city, where it is harder for police to filter protesters.

About 65,000 security officers were deployed across the country last weekend, but that has been increased to 89,000, even though Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said he expected fewer protesters than last weekend, perhaps about 10,000 nationwide.

“Ten thousand is not the people – it’s not France,” he said.

The security forces are seeking to prevent a repeat of last weekend in the capital, where the Arc de Triomphe was vandalised, police were attacked and cars overturned and burned.

Mr Castaner has vowed “zero tolerance” towards violence.

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Reuters

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Some scenes in Paris are more reminiscent of an approaching hurricane

He said: “According to the information we have, some radicalised and rebellious people will try to get mobilised. Some ultra-violent people want to take part.”

The barricade-smashing armoured vehicles have not been seen in the Paris area since riots erupted in poor suburbs in 2005.

Mr Castaner added: “These past three weeks have seen the birth of a monster that has escaped its creators.”

On social media, some activists have called for attacks on police and the Élysée palace in an “Act IV” drama.

One MP, Benoît Potterie, received a bullet in the post, accompanied by the words: “Next time it will be between your eyes.”

Six matches in the top tier of France’s football league have been postponed. The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and other sites are closed in Paris.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo issued a plea: “Take care of Paris on Saturday because Paris belongs to all the French people.”

Where are we with the yellow vest movement?

The “gilets jaunes” protesters are so-called because they have taken to the streets wearing the high-visibility yellow clothing that is required to be carried in every vehicle by French law.

The BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Paris says that over the past few weeks, the social media movement has morphed from a protest over fuel prices to a leaderless spectrum of interest groups and differing demands.

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Its core aim, to highlight the economic frustration and political distrust of poorer working families, still has widespread support, our correspondent says.

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EPA

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Education policy is one of the many areas to which protests have spread

An opinion poll on Friday showed a dip in support, but it still stood at 66%.

President Emmanuel Macron’s ratings have fallen amid the crisis, and he is planning a national address next week, his office has said. Some have criticised him for keeping too low a profile.

On Friday, he visited a police barracks outside Paris to show his support.

What has the government conceded?

The government has said it is scrapping the unpopular fuel tax increases in its budget and has frozen electricity and gas prices for 2019.

The problem is that protests have erupted over other issues.

Granting concessions in some areas may not placate all the protesters, some of whom are calling for higher wages, lower taxes, better pensions, easier university requirements and even the resignation of the president.

Some of his critics call him “the president of the rich”.