Paris: Tear gas, water cannons used to disperse demonstrators

Paris: In a bid to disperse large the number of demonstrators that had gathered at the Champs Elysees on Saturday, police personnel were forced to fire tear gas shells and water cannons at them.

The protesters were voicing their dissent against rising gas prices and French President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.

The “yellow vest” protests, which initially began as a campaign against skyrocketing fuel prices, expanded into a huge agitation against the French government in recent weeks. Police said that around 3,000 officers have been deployed in the French capital to tackle the situation, CNN reported.

Furthermore, a security perimeter has been set up in the city centre with government buildings being put under strict watch.

Discussing the protests at a press conference on Friday, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner had said that the demonstrators were free to protest but should not take law into their own hands.

“Their freedom of expression will be guaranteed, but it must not be exercised to the detriment of security, public order and the right of everybody to come and go. There is no liberty without public order,” Castaner said.

The Macron government is facing heat over widespread discontent by the French public over its focus on extending environmental policies that were previously implemented under former president Francois Hollande’s administration.

Since this year, the prices of the diesel commodity rose 16 per cent from an average 1.24 Euros (approx Rs. 99.37) per litre to 1.48 Euros (approx Rs. 118.61), which further spiraled to 1.53 Euros (approx Rs. 122.62) last month, according to the French Union of Petroleum Industries (UFIP), the country’s oil industry federation.

The price hike is mainly due to an increase in the wholesale price of oil, with Brent crude oil, a benchmark for worldwide oil purchases, leaping from around USD 60 (approx Rs. 4,239.33) a barrel in the first half of 2018 to a high of USD 86.07 (approx Rs. 6,081.32) in early October, a jump of over 20 per cent.

Interestingly, the agitators are not venting their anger at the United States government for imposing tariffs on Iran, impeding its oil exports, or at the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for its decision to reduce oil production.

Recently, a demonstrator was accidentally run over and killed by a car and over 200 others were wounded during a massive protest against the French government in eastern France.