A protester has died and 106 others injured during roadblocks set up around France to demonstrate against rising fuel taxes, in a new challenge to embattled President Emmanuel Macron.
Police officers lobbed tear gas canisters at demonstrators on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Saturday as groups tried to make their way to the presidential Elysee Palace.
Later, hundreds of protesters entered the bottom of the street, which is dotted with luxury shops and the palace – home to Macron.
They were seen on BFMTV talking with riot police when the officers suddenly raised their shields and pushed the group back.
French Interior Ministry officials estimated at midday that about 244,000 protesters were involved in some 2,000 demonstrations around the country, many of them spontaneous.
The protester who died, a 63-year-old woman, was killed when a driver caught in traffic accelerated in a panic at Pont-de-Beauvoisin, near Chambery, according to Louis Laugier, the prefect, or top state official, in the eastern Savoie region.
According to various French media reports, others reportedly knocked on her car as she tried to take her daughter to a hospital. An investigation has been opened.
Five people were seriously injured, while the others had more minor injuries, the Interior Ministry said in an early evening statement, raising an earlier count.
It said 52 people were detained and 38 held for questioning.
Protesters, wearing yellow safety vests and dubbing themselves the “yellow jackets,” pledged to target tollbooths, roundabouts and the bypass that ring Paris.
The fluorescent yellow vests donned by the protesters must be kept in the vehicles of all French drivers in case of car troubles.
The ministry said security forces used tear gas in several places besides the Champs-Elysees to unblock major routes, including firing about 30 canisters at the entrance to the Mont Blanc tunnel.
The nationwide protest was unusual in its grassroots origins. It arose from within the citizenry and backed neither by unions nor politicians, although some took part in a clear bid for supporters.
The amateur nature of the protests, often spontaneous and therefore illegal, made it tricky for police, who had orders to use dialogue instead of force but to stop protesters from completely blocking major routes.
The situation on the Champs-Elysees, for instance, was confusing, with the protest producing a party atmosphere at some points and angry confrontations at others.
Police fired tear gas when a group moved into a street near the presidential palace.
Hundreds of protesters took over the Place de la Concorde at the bottom of the avenue, shouting “Macron resign” as police looked on.
Tensions rose when a group of protesters moved in front of the US Embassy, which is located on a corner of the Place.
The rise in fuel taxes, notably for diesel fuel, spoke to citizens who feel the president has asked ordinary citizens to make the largest efforts in his bid to transform France.
The taxes are part of Macron’s strategy to wean France off fossil fuels. Many drivers see them as emblematic of a presidency they view as disconnected from day-to-day economic difficulties and serving the rich.
The yellow jacket protests drew supporters angry about other issues, too, including diminishing buying power.
Macron’s popularity has plunged, hovering around 30%.
Robert Tichit, 67, a retiree, referred to the president as “King Macron”.
“We’ve had enough of it. There are too many taxes in this country,” he said.