Police in Paris have arrested more than 200 people during the first yellow vest protest since the start of France’s coronavirus outbreak.
The “Gilets Jaunes” are taking part in their first “national day of action” since the protest movement was put on hold because of COVID-19. Their last gathering took place on 14 March – three days before France went into lockdown.
Officers in riot gear have already fired tear gas at demonstrators along the Avenue de Wagram in Paris’s 17th arrondissement, while another march takes place outside the capital’s stock exchange.
Police have banned demonstrations spreading to the nearby Champs Elysees after its famous Arc de Triomphe monument was defaced during previous yellow vests marches – but crowds are still expected to gather there later.
Officers said they had confiscated hammers, screwdrivers, masks and empty bottles of Jack Daniels whiskey, making 222 arrests by 3.45pm local time. A car was also set on fire.
Didier Lallement, prefect of Paris police, has urged demonstrators “not to break things” and to respect social distancing measures amid France’s rising coronavirus infection rate.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in France rose by 9,406 in the 24 hours to Friday, now totalling 363,350, according to the country’s health ministry.
The number of deaths also climbed by 40 in a day to reach a total of 30,893. France has the seventh-highest death rate in the world.
Other yellow vest protests are taking place in the French cities of Marseille, Nice, Lyon, Lille, Nantes and Strasbourg among others.
The protest movement began in 2018 – with marches taking place for 70 Saturdays in a row before the coronavirus lockdown – over fuel tax increases and other reforms by President Macron’s government.