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French police use tear gas to break up yellow vest protest

Scuffles broke out at the start of the weekly “yellow vest” protest in the French southwestern city of Toulouse Saturday, as police used tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators.

There were minor clashes in some of the other protests around France.

The Toulouse march was over within minutes, as thick clouds of tear gas filled the main streets, breaking up the protest into smaller groups that spread through the city’s streets, an AFP journalist witnessed.

Some activists complained that the police had fired tear gas at peaceful protesters, but on some occasions police were responding to missiles thrown at them by some demonstrators.

The authorities had again declared Toulouse’s main square in front of the city hall off-limits to demonstrators, and riot police had sealed it off from the demonstrators.

The Haute-Garonne regional authority said police had arrested 17 people for a variety of offences. They put the turnout in Toulouse at “several thousand” and said two people had been slightly hurt — one demonstrator and one police officer.

Toulouse is a stronghold of the yellow vest movement, named by some as its “national capital”, and has been the scene of clashes between police and protesters in previous weekends.

“The police treat us like cockroaches and ban us from protesting,” said Nathalie, a 60-year-old unemployed woman, as street medics treated her for a cut to her finger.

Odile Maurin, a regular at the Toulouse protests and president of disabled rights association Handi-Social described the police action as “institutional ill-treatment”.

She went on trial Friday for insulting behaviour and violence against police officer, accused of having used her wheelchair as a weapon at a previous protest.

– ‘Resistance is a duty’ –

The yellow vest movement regularly contests police estimates of their protests as gross underestimates.

There were brief scuffles in the northeastern city of Metz when several dozen protesters, mostly youths dressed in black, broke out of the main procession and tried to go down pedestrian streets.

They threw stones and three Molotov cocktails at officers but did not cause any injuries, said police.

Around 200 people marched in the capital, Paris, without incident.

And about a hundred people marched in the northern city of Lille, an AFP journalist noted. “When injustice becomes the law, resistance is a duty,” said one placard.

French President Emmanuel Macron was caught out by the yellow vest protests when they started last year, as protesters accused him of ignoring the day-to-day struggles of ordinary French people.

The numbers have dropped far below the initial protest in November last year, which brought out more than 280,000 people across France.

But a dedicated group of activists maintain the Saturday protests in cities around France, arguing that Macron is still ignoring the needs of marginalised groups such as the working poor.

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