Riot police have clashed in central Paris with yellow vest protesters who are staging another weekend of demonstrations against the high cost of living.
Police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who gathered near the famous Champs-Elysees Boulevard and the Arc de Triomphe monument on Saturday.
More than 300 people were arrested at dawn as about 8,000 security forces were deployed in the French capital in anticipation of a major turmoil.
Across France, about 89,000 police have been deployed amid high alert after last Saturday’s mayhem when rioters torched cars and looted shops.
Early on Saturday, Paris looked like a ghost town, with museums, department stores and the metro closed.
This is a fourth weekend of confrontation over living costs and the government’s plan to raise fuel tax, which has shaken France to its foundations.
The protests have marked participants defacing the Arc de Triomphe monument with graffiti directed at President Emmanuel Macron.
France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said “large-scale” security operation would be launched on Saturday as they expected radical elements” infiltrate planned “yellow vest” protests.
“These past three weeks have seen the birth of a monster that has escaped its creators,” he said, vowing “zero tolerance” towards those aiming to wreak further destruction and mayhem.
The “yellow vest” movement began three weeks ago, but has snowballed to take in other issues, including education reforms.
Macron, who is are expected to address nation early next week, is now experiencing the biggest crisis since being elected 18 months ago.
He has not spoken in public since he condemned last Saturday’s disturbances while at the G20 summit in Argentina. Opposition leaders accused him of turning the Elysee Palace into a bunker where had taken cover.
The 40-year old president, who is under mounting pressure, has left the issue largely to his prime minister to deal in public with the turmoil and offer concessions.
Following last weekend’s protests in central Paris and dozens of other cities and towns across France, the government decided to abandon its plan to raise the fuel tax next year.
But protesters want the president to go further to help hard-pressed households, including an increase to the minimum wage, lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy, better retirement provisions.
Some of them have demanded Macro’s resignation. They say the president is part of an elitist coterie that neither understands, nor cares how they live.
On Thursday, police arrested dozens of high-school students protesting in Mantes-la-Jolie west of Paris.
Images of detained students who were kneeling in mud with their hands behind their back or on the head, circulated on social media, and sparked outrage across the country. Footage shows children and teenagers, some reportedly as young as 12 years old.
The education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said that the images had to be seen in the context of police responding to student violence. “There are shocking images because we are in a climate of exceptional violence.”
More than 700 students were arrested across France on Thursday alone.