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Tear gas and water cannons used to force French 'yellow-vest' protesters off Champs-Elysees

French police have used tear gas and water cannons to force "yellow vest" protesters off the Champs-Elysees in Paris as demonstrations against the cost of living continued for the fifth weekend.

The French capital's famed avenue was re-opened to traffic as darkness fell after a day of protests in which bare-breasted protesters dressed as red-hooded Marianne, a symbol of the revolutionary French Republic, joined yellow vests and took to the streets.

The protests were significantly smaller on Saturday than at previous rallies, some of which scarred parts of Paris with vandalism and looting.

A few thousand people marched up and down the famed shopping street in Paris, a spirited yet peaceful gathering that sunk into violence as the afternoon wore on.

French president Emmanuel Macron called for calm on Friday following a series of violent weekends in the capital and a strong police presence was deployed to combat the expected demonstrations.

Security forces in riot gear were positioned around central railway stations and along the famous Champs-Elysees boulevard, where shops were closed and their windows boarded up in anticipation of the protests.

  • Bare-breasted protesters face off against police

Authorities said about 8,000 police officers and 14 armoured vehicles were being deployed across Paris.

ITV News Correspondent Angus Walker noted the protests had altered the mood in one of Europe's iconic tourist cities.

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Last weekend, groups of demonstrators smashed and looted stores, clashing with police and setting up burning barricades in the streets.

The “yellow vest” movement, which takes its name from the fluorescent safety vests French motorists must all have in their vehicles, emerged in mid-November as a protest against fuel tax increases.

Demonstrators wearing yellow vests talk to police officers on the Champs-Elysees in Paris Credit: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP

It soon expanded into an expression of rage about the high cost of living in France and a sense that President Emmanuel Macron’s government is detached from the everyday struggles of workers.

There was a strong police presence on Saturday outside the central Saint Lazare station, where police in riot gear checked bags.

More than 20 police vans and a water cannon truck were parked nearby.

Hundreds of people began converging on the Champs-Elysees during the morning.

Demonstrators wearing yellow vests walk down the Champs-Elysees Credit: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP

“We’re here to represent all our friends and members of our family who can’t come to protest, or because they’re scared,” said Pierre Lamy, a 27-year-old industrial worker wearing a yellow vest and with a French flag draped over his shoulders as he walked to the protest with three friends.

He said the protests had long stopped being about the fuel tax and had turned into a movement for economic justice.

“Everything’s coming up now,” he said. “We’re being bled dry.”

On Friday Mr Macron called for calm during the demonstrations, and the French government reiterated the call online for demonstrators to remain peaceful.

French President Emmanuel Macron has appealed for calm. Credit: Ludovic Marin/AP

“Protesting is a right. So let’s know how to exercise it,” the government tweeted from its official account, with a 34-second video which begins with images of historic French protests and recent footage of “yellow vests” rallying peacefully before turning to violence.

“Protesting is not smashing. Protesting is not smashing our heritage. Protesting is not smashing our businesses … Protesting is not smashing our republic,” the video says.