French police fired tear gas and drove back protesters from streets around the Champs-Elysées in central Paris on Saturday as the gilets jaunes movement announced a post-holiday comeback.
Authorities deployed 7,500 members of the security forces in the capital in a show of force. They also banned demonstrations in eight parts of the city, including key government buildings and tourist sites such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government is seeking to deter the uncontrolled violence that led to the vandalising of the Arc de Triomphe and the ransacking of shops along the Champs-Elysées, the famous Paris shopping avenue, in December and March.
Shortly after midday, police said they had held 90 people for questioning and searched hundreds more to seize possible weapons and equipment used by potential rioters.
Pairs of policemen on motorcycles — the brigades de répression de l’action violente (motorised anti-violence brigades or Brav) — rushed from street to street to drive away dozens of “black bloc” revolutionaries from the Champs-Elysées.
After nearly a year of anti-government demonstrations, the gilets jaunes have evolved from a motorists’ protest against green fuel taxes — motorists have to carry yellow fluorescent vests in their vehicles in case of accidents — into a broader anti-establishment movement.
Their recent marches in Paris have shrunk in size and been increasingly dominated by anarchists and leftists who say they want to topple Mr Macron.
Several different marches were planned in Paris on Saturday, including one demanding social justice and action against climate change, which was linked to the gilets jaunes, and another led by the Force Ouvrière trade union against the Macron government’s planned reforms to the pensions system.
The violence and the police action to prevent demonstrators reaching banned areas led to the closure of museums such as the Grand Palais and of key bridges across the Seine on Saturday, and severely disrupted an annual heritage weekend when government and private buildings are opened to public viewing.
Mr Macron responded to the gilets jaunes protests by abandoning the green fuel tax rises, releasing billions of euros in government spending to improve rewards for low-paid workers and launching a two-month “great national debate” to discuss everything from the cost of living to immigration.
Recent opinion polls show Mr Macron’s popularity has recovered to the level it held before the first big gilets jaunes demonstrations in November last year.
Mr Macron’s approval rating rose three percentage points from the previous month to reach 37 per cent, with 63 per cent of those questioned still holding a negative view, according to a BVA poll published on Friday. The approval rating of Edouard Philippe, Mr Macron’s prime minister, also rose three percentage points in a month to hit 41 per cent.