PARIS: Update: French PM calls for 'dialogue' after fresh 'yellow vest' protests.
French "yellow vest" demonstrators clashed with riot police in Paris on Saturday in the latest round of protests against President Emmanuel Macron, but the city appeared to be escaping the large-scale destruction of a week earlier due to heavy security.
Armoured vehicles rolled through central Paris as protesters, clad in their emblematic luminous safety jackets, threw rocks at police and set fire to barricades.
Shouts of "Macron, resign" mingled with tear gas on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue, and thick plumes of black smoke from fires rose high into the sky. Several cars were set alight.
But the pockets of violence were a far cry from the destruction and looting of a week earlier, when some 200 cars were torched in the worst rioting in Paris in decades.
The government had vowed "zero tolerance" for anarchist, far-right or other trouble-makers seeking to wreak further havoc at protests that have sparked the deepest crisis of Macron's presidency.
Police reinforcements were boosted to 8,000 across the city, with armoured vehicles deployed in Paris for the first time ever.
More than 650 protesters were detained in the capital, many of them stopped as they arrived at train stations or meeting points carrying hammers, petanque balls and other potential missiles.
Police also confiscated surgical masks and goggles used to protect against the effects of tear gas.
Shops along the Champs-Elysees and department stores around the city stayed shut with their windows boarded up to avoid looting.
The Eiffel Tower, major museums and many metro stations were also closed as parts of central Paris went on effective lockdown.
Armoured vehicles rolled through central Paris on Saturday as riot police clashed with "yellow vest" demonstrators, who set fire to barricades and hurled rocks in the latest demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.
Shouts of "Macron, resign" mingled with tear gas on the Champs-Elysees avenue, which was the scene of the worst rioting in Paris in decades last week.
Thick plumes of black smoke from fires could be seen rising high into the sky over the city.
Government calls for protesters to stay away from "Act IV" of a battle that began over fuel prices but ballooned into an anti-Macron revolt fell on deaf ears, with demonstrators making their way to Paris from across the country.
In the Grands Boulevards shopping district, masked protesters threw rocks at riot police and set fire to a barricade hastily assembled from stolen dustbins and Christmas trees.
Denis, a 30-year-old forklift driver from the Normandy port of Caen, travelled to Paris for the first time Saturday to make his voice heard after three weeks at the barricades in the provinces.
"I'm here for my 15-month-old son. I can't let him live in a country where the poor are exploited," he told AFP.
An estimated 31,000 people joined "yellow vest" anti-government protests across France on Saturday, deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez said, adding that 700 people had been detained.
"At the national level, including Paris, we're at more than 700 detained with participation in the movement at 31,000 nationwide including 8,000 in Paris," he told France 2 television.
French riot police fired tear gas canisters at "yellow vest" protesters in central Paris on Saturday at the start of a planned demonstration against the high cost of living under President Emmanuel Macron.
A police spokeswoman told reporters there were about 1,500 protesters on the Champs Elysees boulevard and authorities said 211 people had been arrested after police found weapons such as hammers, baseball bats and metal petanque balls on them.
Hundreds of protesters were milling around the Arc de Triomphe monument, which was defaced with graffiti last Saturday, when rioters also torched cars and looted shops.
"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," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on French television.
On Tuesday Philippe announced the government was suspending planned increases to fuel taxes for at least six months to help defuse weeks of protests, the first U-turn by Macron since he came to power 18 months ago.
About 89,000 police were deployed across France on Saturday, some 8,000 of them in Paris.
"We have prepared a robust response," Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told online news site Brut. He called on peaceful protesters not to get mixed up with "hooligans".
"The troublemakers can only be effective when they disguise themselves as yellow vests. Violence is never a good way to get what you want. Now is the time for discussion," he said.
"If you are not aggressive, we will not be aggressive, a masked policeman said as a protester stuck yellow plastic flowers onto policemen.
Much of Paris looked like a ghost town on Saturday, with museums, department stores closed on what should have been a festive pre-Christmas shopping day.
Tourists were few and residents were advised to stay at home if at all possible. Dozens of streets were closed to traffic, while the Eiffel Tower and world-famous museums such as the Musee d'Orsay, the Centre Pompidou and the Louvre were shut.
Many shops were boarded up to avoid looting and street furniture and construction site materials have been removed to prevent them from being used as projectiles.
"We have come here for a peaceful march, not to smash things. We want equality, we want to live, not survive," said Guillaume Le Grac, 28, who works in a slaughterhouse in the town of Guingamp in Britanny.
Protesters, using social media, have billed the weekend as "Act IV" in a dramatic challenge to Macron and his policies.
What triggered the protests?
The protests, named after the high-visibility safety jackets French motorists have to keep in their cars, erupted in November over the squeeze on household budgets caused by fuel taxes.
Demonstrations have since swelled into a broad, sometimes violent rebellion against Macron, a challenge made more difficult to handle since the movement has no formal leader.
Authorities say the protests have been hijacked by far-right and anarchist elements bent on violence and stirring up social unrest in a direct affront to Macron and the security forces.
Despite the government's climbdown over the fuel tax, the 'yellow vests' continue to demand more concessions, including lower taxes, a higher minimum wage, lower energy costs, better retirement benefits and even Macron's resignation.