The gendarmerie confirmed a “small amount” of the chemical gas was released close to the Arc de Triomphe. The independent Taranis news outlet posted videos of a row of armoured tanks lined up on the Champs Elysees, and the debilitating strain of highly concentrated tear gas pouring out. The desperate measure came as the French government banned Yellow Vest protest Paris after Saturday’s rioting caused millions of pounds worth of damage.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he wanted to avoid repeating scenes that saw the Champs Elysees trashed amidst a crowd of 10,000.
In a TV address on Monday following crisis meetings, Mr Philippe said: “From next Saturday, we will ban Yellow Vest protests in districts that have been the worst hit as soon as we see signs of the presence of radical groups and their intent to cause damage.”
He conceded “inappropriate orders” had been sent to officers in Paris on Saturday and, as a result, fired police chief Michel Delpuech and replaced him with Didier Lallement.
Organisers of Saturday’s protest called it an “ultimatum”, seeking to intensify pressure on the 41-year-old president as he digests hours of facetime with mayors, high school students, workers and stay-at-home mothers, as well as 1.4 million online contributions.
“His debate may be finished but we are still here on the streets,” 43-year old unemployed Agnes told Reuters TV during the Yellow Vest march in Paris. “And if he does not satisfy our demands, we will take back the roundabouts, we will go and block everything.”
Whether it was a protesters’ swansong, as his interior minister suggested, or sign of an “endless crisis” as newspaper Le Monde put it in its editorial, Saturday’s destruction pointed to the tense environment in which Macron must make decisions that will shape the rest of his five-year mandate.
Aware of the dangers of high expectations and the limited wiggle room French public finances allow, Macron had visibly instructed his ministers to play down the scope of the announcements he said he would make before mid-April.
But Macron’s aides acknowledge he will have to change both his style – critics say he is too controlling while voters have been angered by his perceived loftiness and arrogance – and allow for more participatory democracy.
The Yellow Vest protests began on November 17 last year as a backlash against fuel hikes, but have since come to encompass widespread dissatisfaction with the French elite.