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Paris police fire tear gas as ‘yellow vest’ protests rage over rising fuel costs

Click to play video 'French police clash with protesters in Paris' French police clash with protesters in Paris
WATCH ABOVE: Police fired tear gas and turned water cannon on protesters in Paris who are angry over rising fuel costs and President Emmanuel Macron's economic policies, the second weekend of "yellow vest" protests across France – Nov 24, 2018

PARIS – Police fired tear gas and turned water cannons on protesters in Paris who are angry over rising fuel costs and President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies, the second weekend of “yellow vest” protests across France.

READ MORE: French President Macron fires security guard caught on video beating protester

By midday around 5,000 protesters had converged on the Champs Elysees where some clashed with police sent to prevent them from reaching the president’s Elysee Palace nearby.

Protesters sang the national anthem and waved French flags while others carried signs with slogans saying “Macron, resignation” and “Macron, thief.”

Others were seen digging up cobbles or building barricades as police confirmed the presence of several hardline groups on one of the city’s best known avenues.

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WATCH: Police deployed tear gas against chanting protesters in Paris 
Click to play video 'Police use tear gas as protests rage against rising fuel prices in France' Police use tear gas as protests rage against rising fuel prices in France
Police use tear gas as protests rage against rising fuel prices in France – Nov 24, 2018

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner accused far-right leader Marine Le Pen of fanning the protests.

“The ultra-right is mobilized and is building barricades on the Champs Elysees. They are progressively being neutralized and pushed back by police,” he said.

In a message on Twitter, Le Pen said she had questioned why no protests were being allowed in the area.

Protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers’ protest against higher fuel prices, stand up in front of a police water canon during clashes on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, November 24, 2018.
Protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers’ protest against higher fuel prices, stand up in front of a police water canon during clashes on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

WATCH: Violent protests continue into the night in Paris over fuel prices

Click to play video 'Violent protests continue into the night in Paris over fuel prices' Violent protests continue into the night in Paris over fuel prices
Violent protests continue into the night in Paris over fuel prices – Nov 24, 2018

“Today Mr Castaner is using this to target me. This is low and dishonest” she said.

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Proesters are opposed to taxes Macron introduced last year on diesel and petrol which are designed to encourage people to shift to more environmentally friendly transport. Alongside the tax, the government has offered incentives to buy green or electric vehicles.

For more than a week, protesters clad in the fluorescent yellow jackets that all motorists in France must have in their cars have blocked highways across the country with burning barricades and convoys of slow-moving trucks, obstructing access to fuel depots, shopping centers and some factories.

CHALLENGE FOR MACRON

Security forces had been concerned that far-left and far-right extremists may infiltrate the demonstrations, escalating the crowd-control challenges.

Some 3,000 police officers have been drafted in to work in Paris on Saturday, city hall said, with security forces having to handle a demonstration against sexual violence, a soccer match and a rugby game in the capital on the same day.

Last Saturday, when nearly 300,000 people took part in the first yellow vest demonstrations countrywide, retailers’ daily revenue fell 35 percent, according to consumer groups.

WATCH: Thousands march in Paris to demand action on climate change

Click to play video 'Thousands march in Paris to demand action on climate change' Thousands march in Paris to demand action on climate change
Thousands march in Paris to demand action on climate change – Sep 8, 2018

The unrest is a dilemma for Macron who casts himself as a champion against climate change but has been derided as out of touch with common folk and is fighting a slump in popularity.

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Despite calls for calm from the government, the yellow vest protests have spread to French territories abroad, including the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where cars were set on fire.

READ MORE: Mali migrant who scaled Paris building to rescue child offered French citizenship, job as firefighter

The unrest has left two dead and 606 injured in mainland France, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.

While the movement, which has no leader, began as a backlash against higher fuel prices, it has tapped into broader frustration at the sense of a squeeze on household spending power under Macron’s 18-month-old government.

WATCH: Dramatic video shows workers fleeing from avalanche in France

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Dramatic video shows workers fleeing from avalanche in France – Apr 12, 2018

Since coming to power, Macron has seen off trade union and street demonstrations against his changes to the labor rules, and overhauled the heavily indebted state rail operator. Foreign investors have largely cheered his pro-business administration.

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WATCH: Police officer reportedly injured during France fuel protests (Nov. 17)

Click to play video 'Police officer reportedly injured during France fuel protests' Police officer reportedly injured during France fuel protests
Police officer reportedly injured during France fuel protests – Nov 17, 2018

But political foes have dismissed him as the “president of the rich” for ending a wealth tax, and voters appear to be growing restless, with the 40-year-old president’s popularity slumped at barely 20 percent. (Editing by Keith Weir)