'Yellow vests' burn bank building, ransack stores as Paris protests turn violent

France ‘Yellow vest’ protestors loot torch shops in Paris 42 injured in police action

Riot police use a water cannon on a protestor on the Place de l'Etoile in Paris on Saturday. | Zakaria Abdelkafi AFP

French police appeared caught off guard by the sudden burst of outrage.

Cobblestones flew in the air and smoke from fires set by protesters mingled with clouds of tear gas sprayed by police, as tensions continued for hours along the Champs-Elysees.

As firetrucks rushed over, a mother and her child were rescued as the fire threatened to engulf their floor, Paris' fire service told The Associated Press news agency. Firefighters evacuated the residents of the building before putting out the blaze.

Around half a million people turned out at townhall-style meetings held around the country, but many "yellow-vest" protesters dismissed the consultation as a smokescreen.

France's government faced harsh criticism on Sunday, in the aftermath of an arson and looting rampage perpetrated by demonstrators during a "yellow vest" protest in Paris the day before.

"We're here to show Macron that empty words are not enough", said yellow vest demonstrator Frank Leblanc, 62, from Nantes.

Many protesters, particularly those on the political extremes, see the national debate as a failure.

"I'm glad there are the thugs, because without them our movement wouldn't get any attention".

"Some feel that the violence is legitimate - that's the big drama of what this whole movement has brought us", he told broadcaster France Inter on Sunday, noting that it is the first time since the 1968 student riots in Paris that violence has returned as a legitimate mode of action.

Police arrested almost 240 protesters as rioters looted stores around the Champs Elysees and wrecked the high-end Fouquet's restaurant.

The protest is one of several planned in Paris on Saturday, where French climate campaigners are also planning a "March of The Century".

Boutiques were smashed up, mannequins thrown out of broken windows and a newsagents was set on fire. High-end restaurant Fouquet's, a popular eatery amongst politicians and celebrities, was ransacked by protesters who overturned chairs, tables and smashed the windows. Rioters also set fire to an upmarket handbag store and two newsstands on the Champs Elysees, while scattered bonfires burned on the thoroughfare.

Macron said some individuals - dubbed "black blocs" by French police forces - were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to "damage the Republic, to break, to destroy". He also said the Paris crowd included 1,500 "ultraviolent ones who are there to smash things up".

"It's unfortunate but this is the only way we can make ourselves heard", a "yellow vest" who traveled from the southeastern Bourgogne region for a protest billed as an "ultimatum" to Macron, said as he looked on.

"The yellow vest protests are dying..."

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that more than 1400 police officers had been mobilised and police said they had arrested more than 80 protesters by mid-afternoon.

The yellow vest groups represented teachers, unemployed people and labour unions.

Saturday's attempted reboot coincides with the end of two months of public debates called by Mr. Macron to take the heat out of the protests, which repeatedly ended in rioting in December and January.

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