In a fourth weekend of massive unrest, anti-government protesters have battled French riot police in Paris, hurling projectiles, torching cars and vandalising shops and restaurants.
Police used tear gas, water cannon and horses on Saturday to charge protesters on roads fanning out from the Champs Elysees boulevard, where shop windows were boarded up and smoke from burning cars filled the air.
The smoke-wreathed scenes of chaos and conflict were the latest manifestation of the fury that has rocked President Emmanuel Macron’s government and challenged the deeply unpopular French leader’s authority.
Protesters insist they will not stand down until Mr Macron and his government resigns.
Authorities attempted to put a positive spin on events, noting there had been less violence than a week ago, when the capital witnessed its worst unrest since the 1968 student riots.
“A stop has been put to the escalation of violence,” the minister said. “It nevertheless remains at a level that, although contained, is totally unacceptable.”
As night fell and many demonstrators left the streets, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner estimated there had been around 10,000 protesters in Paris and some 125,000 across the country.
Other sources dismissed those figures as fanciful, noting that the sheer number of arrests indicated much larger attendances at protests in every major French city.
Security forces have so far arrested 1385 people across the country with 985 detained for questioning, Mr Castaner said.
Last week, when there was more violence, authorities estimated 136,000 protesters nationwide and 5500 in Paris.
Castaner said that 118 protesters had been injured, mainly in road accidents, along with 17 members of the security forces, compared with 220 protesters and 284 members of the security forces last Saturday.
There was less violence than last week, when rioters torched 112 cars and looted shops in the worst rioting in Paris since May 1968.
“We were on our knees and they shot tear gas at us. I am telling you, things are going to blow up,” said Yanis Areg, 21, from Paris.
A police source told Reuters he feared that things would get out of hand after nightfall.
Named after the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists must carry, the “yellow vest” protests erupted out of nowhere on November 17, when nearly 300,000 demonstrators nationwide took to the streets to denounce high living costs and Macron’s bid to tax petrol and diesel fuel to cut his country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Macron last week bowed to the protests and scrapped the planned fuel tax, but by then the protest movement was beyond stopping.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe appealed for restraint.
“We will do all we can so that today can be a day without violence, so that the dialogue that we started this week can continue in the best possible circumstances,” he said on French television.