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80 Paris businesses attacked in 'yellow vest' rampage

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French President Emmanuel Macron said some people - dubbed "black blocs" by police - were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to "damage the Republic".

Paris

SOME 80 shops and businesses on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris were vandalised this weekend with about 20 looted or torched when "yellow vest" protesters went on the rampage, retailers said on Sunday.

Saturday's demonstrations were characterised by a sharp increase in violence after weeks of dwindling turnout, with hooded protesters looting and torching shops along the famed avenue.

It was the 18th consecutive weekend of demonstrations which began in mid-November as a protest against fuel price hikes but have since morphed into a potent anti-government movement.

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"There was a wave of violence, we're dealing with the aftermath of the chaos. We're trying to reassure all the employees and then there are those who live here, too," said Jean-Noel Reinhardt, head of the Committee Champs-Elysees, a local association with 180 members, most of them businesses.

He said residents and business owners were pushing for talks with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe "to share our exasperation and explain our complaints. "The authorities must put an end to this situation," he insisted.

Since the beginning, the prestigious avenue, which is known for its shops, cafes and luxury boutiques, has been the focal point for the demonstrations which have often turned violent, sparking running battles between police and protesters.

On Saturday, the police appeared overrun as protesters swarmed the area, vandalising and later setting fire to Fouquet's brasserie, a favourite hangout of the rich and famous for the past century - as well as luxury handbag store Longchamp.

Clothing outlets Hugo Boss, Lacoste and Celio were also damaged, as well as a bank, a chocolatier and several newsstands.

"Enough is enough. And this Saturday went too far!" raged Bernard Stalter, president of CMA France, a national network of chambers of trades and crafts.

He also demanded a meeting with top ministers "this week in order to find solutions which will put an end to a situation which has become as volatile as it is unacceptable."

French President Emmanuel Macron - who cut his ski holiday short following a tour of Africa - vowed on Twitter on Saturday evening that "strong decisions" were coming to prevent more violence.

Mr Macron said some individuals - dubbed "black blocs" by French police forces - were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to "damage the Republic, to break, to destroy".

Mr Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it.

The Yellow Vests have been protesting across France since the end of November, with demands ranging from lower taxes to better public services.

The movement had seemed to be losing steam in the past few weeks as the government brought in a national debate initiative, which allowed individuals and opposition parties to voice their discontent by putting forward proposals to change the status quo. That process came to an end on March 15.

A poll from Elabe released on March 13 showed that seven of 10 French individuals surveyed didn't think that debate would resolve the crisis, while 63 per cent thought the government wouldn't take any of the policy proposals into account. AFP, BLOOMBERG