By Angela Charlton / Associated Press
PARIS — French yellow vest protesters set small fires as they marched through Paris on Saturday to drive home their latest message to the government: that rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral isn’t the only problem the nation needs to solve.
Police repeatedly fired tear gas on stone-throwing protesters on the margins of the largely peaceful march, one of several actions around Paris and other French cities. They’re marking the 23rd straight weekend of yellow vest action against wealth inequality and President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership.
Security was extra-high in Paris as authorities braced for resurgent yellow vest anger. The Paris police headquarters said authorities detained 126 people by early afternoon and carried out spot checks of more than 11,000 people trying to enter the capital for Saturday’s protests.
The tensions focused on a march of several thousand people that started at the Finance Ministry in eastern Paris to demand lower taxes on workers and pensioners and higher taxes on the rich.
As the crowd headed toward the Place de la Republique plaza in eastern Paris, barricades were set ablaze at multiple spots, and branches set on fire elsewhere. Firefighters quickly responded to extinguish the flames.
An Associated Press reporter saw a masked protester dressed entirely in black jump on a Mercedes parked along the march route, smashing its front and back windshields.
Another group of about 200 people tried to march on the president’s Elysee Palace in central Paris, but riot police blocked them at the neo-classical Madeleine Church.
Yet another group is trying to demonstrate yellow vest mourning over the Notre Dame blaze while also keeping up pressure on Macron. The group wanted to march to Notre Dame itself, but were banned by police, who set up a large security perimeter around the area.
One member of that march carried a huge wooden cross as he walked on a nearby embankment.
Many protesters were deeply saddened by the fire at a national monument. But at the same time they are angry at the $1 billion in Notre Dame donations that poured in from tycoons while their own demands remain largely unmet and they struggle to make ends meet.
Some 60,000 police officers were mobilized for Saturday’s protests across France as the interior minister warned of the risk of resurgent violence. The movement is largely peaceful but extremists have attacked treasured monuments, shops and banks and clashed with police.
The heavy police presence meant subway stations and roads around Paris were closed Saturday, thwarting tourists trying to enjoy the French capital on an exceptionally warm spring day.
“Paris is very difficult right now,” said Paul Harlow, of Kansas City, Missouri, as he looked sadly at the damaged Notre Dame from a quay lined with booksellers.
He and his wife Susan are in Paris only for a few days, and didn’t make it in time to see the cathedral — and their efforts to visit museums Saturday were derailed by closed subways and barricaded roads. “I don’t think we’ll be back.”
But some visitors showed solidarity with the yellow vest cause.
“I am not interested in joining them, but I can understand what they’re angry about,” said Antonio Costes, a retiree from the Paris suburb of Montreuil who came Saturday to see the damage to Notre Dame. “There is a lot of injustice.”
Macron had been scheduled to lay out his responses to yellow vest concerns on Monday night — but canceled the speech because the fire broke out. He’s now expected to do so next Thursday.
Yellow vest critics accuse Macron of trying to exploit the fire for political gain — one group marching Saturday even accused Macon of “burning down Notre Dame.”
Some prominent yellow vest figures who had stopped protesting recently said they’d return to the streets Saturday, out of an even greater sense of being overlooked since the Notre Dame tragedy.
Anti-rich messages have flourished on social media in recent days as yellow vest protesters exhorted wealthy donors to be more generous with France’s underclass.
Chris den Hond, Francisco Seco and Michel Euler in Paris contributed to this report.