Clashes in France on anniversary of yellow vest protests

Police use water cannons on protesters

Protesters attend a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the "yellow vests" movement in Nantes, France, November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
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French police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse stone-throwing "yellow vest" protesters in Paris on Saturday, on the first anniversary of the movement challenging President Emmanuel Macron's policies.

Clashes broke out in other French cities as activists rallied to prove their movement is still a force a year after the first giant protest on November 17, 2018, which drew 282,000 people.

Numbers attending the protests and levels of violence have sharply diminished from the height of the movement, which began on the back of frustration Macron was failing to address the needs of ordinary French people.

But Saturday's protests -- which demonstrators called "Act 53" of their weekly gatherings -- marked the first serious clashes for months in central Paris between security forces and demonstrators.

The interior ministry put the number of demonstrators at 28,600 nationwide but the organisers said nearly 40,000 people had rallied.

Tensions focused on the Place d'Italie square in southeast Paris. Police in full riot gear flooded the area in tear gas and used water cannons after demonstrators threw stones, set rubbish bins alight, overturned cars and set them ablaze.

A major shopping centre in the area was closed after dozens of protesters threw stones at the windows of a neighbouring hotel. Several demonstrators and a freelance journalist were injured.

Police arrested 147 people across Paris on Saturday evening and 129 were taken into custody.

Earlier in the afternoon, Paris police chief Didier Lallement had banned the Place d'Italie demonstration, condemning the "damage and the systematic attacks against the security forces and the fire brigade".

"It's pathetic that the demonstration was banned," said Catherine Van Puymbroeck, 49. "The state has provoked this anger."

Police also fired tear gas in the Les Halles area, near the famed Pompidou Centre museum, to break up demonstrations.

"We're here even if Macron doesn't like it," demonstrators chanted as they arrived on the outskirts of Paris Saturday, with others singing "Happy Birthday".

Police were deployed in numbers, especially along the Champs-Elysees, which was again closed off to demonstrators following the ransacking of shops that followed a protest last March.