Dubbed as “Act 3”, renewed demonstrations by the “yellow vests” rocked the French capital on Saturday with about 75,000 protesters, the majority of them peaceful, taking to the streets across France, according to the interior ministry.
People taking part in the demonstrations ransacked shops and banks, set vehicles and buildings on fire, painted graffiti on landmarks and uprooted the pavement, in neighbourhoods adjacent to the Champs Elysees, the Opera and numerous other popular tourist attractions.
Police forces launched tear gas and stun grenades, and attempted to disperse protesters with barricades and water cannons. Some 270 people have been arrested and at least 110 injured, including at least 17 police officers.
Protests by the yellow vests originally began in mid-November as a reaction to increases in fuel prices and taxes, but have since continuously expanded to a broader and ill-defined set of demands, including the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron.
Without a clearly defined leadership, the yellow vests have mobilised people from all walks of life, unified mostly by their shared discontent with a rising cost of living, using social media to spread calls for demonstrations.
Pierre, a retiree who came to demonstrate in Paris from the western region of Bretagne, told Al Jazeera that the yellow vests movement was “a pacifist and anti-violence movement that only wanted the diesel tax to be cut out.
“Since that has been neglected by the government, now the diesel is just one reason [for demonstrating] and we will not stop until Macron resigns from his position of representing the rich people,” Pierre said.
The violence during the protests has been blamed on extreme elements on both the right and left of the spectrum, who have reportedly infiltrated the protests and are responsible for inciting violence, especially against the security forces.
Late on Saturday afternoon, some groups of violent protesters were spotted throwing anything from bottles and car parts to pieces of the pavement, at security forces from behind barricades, while beating drums and chanting “A La Guerre!” (To War!)
Sophie, from Paris, said she came to peacefully protest but extreme right groups infiltrated the movement.
“[They] started the violence and have taken away the importance of why the movement is demonstrating, creating an idea, not only in France but in the world, about the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) that is not true. We are not violent but normal people who want a better life,” she said.