French police used a water cannon and fired tear gas in Paris on Saturday to drive back protesters marking the first anniversary of anti-government “yellow vest” demonstrations.
On the Place d’Italie in the south of the city, demonstrators, many clad in black and hiding their faces, vandalised an HSBC bank branch. A Bank of China office was also vandalised with the words “With Hong Kong”.
They set trash bins on fire and hurled cobblestones and bottles at riot police while building barricades.
Two cars were overturned, a scooter and car were on fire and police responded with tear gas and a water cannon.
Police said 33 people had been arrested by 11.30am in Paris.
Earlier, clashes broke out between demonstrators and police near the Porte de Champerret, close to the Arc de Triomphe, as protesters were preparing to march across town towards Gare d’Austerlitz.
Police also intervened to prevent a few hundred demonstrators from occupying the Paris ring road.
The so-called yellow vest protests, named for the high-visibility jackets worn by demonstrators, erupted in November 2018 over fuel price hikes and the high cost of living in France.
The demonstrations spiralled into a broader movement against President Emmanuel Macron and his economic reforms.
The protests lost strength in recent months, going from tens of thousands of participants to just a few thousand, but the movement’s leaders called for people to turn out on Saturday to mark the first anniversary.
At its peak in late 2018, the movement grew to up to 300,000 people.
Protests have been banned near tourists spots such as the Eiffel Tower and 20 subway stations were closed on Saturday.
Corentin Pihel, 28, said he travelled to Paris from Montpellier to mark the movement’s anniversary. He joined the yellow vest movement two weeks after it began, identifying with its mission as a struggling student at the time.
“In the beginning, I found that the movement made a lot of sense, to mobilise from the bottom for better buying power,” Pihel said. “But after, it enlarged its communication to become much greater – it’s just people who want to live. And I felt a real solidarity.”
Cathy Nauleau, 44, came to Paris from eastern France to participate as “we’re still exactly in the same place but we won’t give up”.
The yellow vest movement was one of the toughest challenges to Macron’s presidency before it dwindled in the early summer.
It evolved from nationwide road blockades into a series of often-violent demonstrations that pitted rowdy protesters with police and ravaged Paris and other major cities in the country.
The yellow vest crisis forced Macron to make policy concessions and delay the next big wave of reforms, including overhauling the pension and unemployment systems.
A survey by pollster Odoxa published two weeks ago showed nearly one in every two French people believed the protest movement might reawaken.
Macron’s plans to simplify the unwieldy and expensive pension system, which he says will make it fairer, is particularly unpopular.
“We have to be very careful,” one senior government adviser said of the current climate. “It’s a matter which requires prudence and compassion. Even if we didn’t have the reforms, we’d have to be careful because any little spark could quickly reignite things.”
Trade unions have called on railway workers, Paris public transport staff, truck drivers and civil servants to strike against the pensions overhaul on Dec. 5, and in some cases beyond.
Students and yellow vest protesters have called for people to join forces with the unions.
One slogan written on a wall on Place d’Italie on Saturday said: “December 5. Early retirement for Macron”.
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