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Blazes, looting hit Paris as Gilets Jaunes seek new momentum

17 March 2019

Large plumes of smoke on Saturday rose above the rioting on the landmark Champs-Elysees avenue in the French capital, as the demonstrators set fires and smashed up luxury stores.

The resurgent violence came as protesters are seeking to breathe new life into a movement that seemed to be fizzling, and get attention from French leaders and media whom they see as underplaying their economic justice cause and favouring the elite.

Police appeared to be caught off guard by the speed and severity of Saturday's unrest.

Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protesters, who had dwindled in numbers in recent weeks before Saturday's revival.

A Banque Tarneaud branch spewed flames before firefighters arrived and rescued two people from the building, with eleven suffering minor injuries, the fire department said. Lointier said a mother and her child were saved from the flames on the second floor and other residents were safely evacuated.

Luxury handbag store Longchamp was among the shops targeted by the rioters on the Champs-Elysees
Luxury handbag store Longchamp was among the shops targeted by the rioters on the Champs-Elysees

The fire in the bank, which was on the ground floor of a seven-story residential building near the Champs-Elysees Avenue, was later extinguished.

The rally was called to coincide with the end of two months of public debates called by President Emmanuel Macron to give voters a forum to air their grievances and propose policy changes.

The violence comes after a two-month national debate that Macron organized to respond to protesters' concerns about sinking living standards, high unemployment, stagnant wages and general income inequality.

The rioters also looted several clothing stores and set fire to barricades in scenes reminiscent of the worst yellow-vest riots in Paris in December.

Several protesters smiled as they posed for a photo in front of one the kiosk's charred remains.

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Demonstrators also targeted symbols of the luxury industry, smashing and pillaging shops including brands Hugo Boss and Lacoste, and tossing mannequins out of broken windows.

Tensions flared at the top of the famed avenue where upmarket restaurant Fouquet's, which is often frequented by celebrities and politicians, was set alight and vandalised.

A vehicle burned outside the luxury boutique Kenzo, one of many blazes on and around the Champs-Elysees.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that although the protest was relatively small, there had been more than 1,500 "ultra violent" people out looking for trouble. He also said the crowd included 1,500 "ultraviolent ones who are there to smash things up".

But many "yellow vests" dismissed the consultation exercise as a smoke-screen.

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By mid-morning, 20 people were arrested as a heavy police presence was deployed in a bid to stop the violence.

Protester wearing a yellow vest holds a flag during a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris.

Lawyer and yellow vest protester Francois Boulo said: "Those who participated in this great debate are mostly retirees and upper middle class, meaning Macron's electorate, even though we understood this great national debate was supposed to respond to the yellow vest crisis".

A German factory worker who traveled to Paris to show solidarity with yellow vest protesters said he agreed with the destruction inasmuch as banks are "the biggest problem in the world".

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Blazes, looting hit Paris as Gilets Jaunes seek new momentum