NIMES: A demonstrator holds a placard reading "Power to the People" as he poses with the Arena of Nimes in background during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vests "Gilets Jaunes" movement. - AFP

PARIS: Thousands
of anti-government demonstrators marched in cities across France on Saturday in
a new round of "yellow vest" protests against President Emmanuel
Macron, accused of ignoring the plight of millions of people struggling to make
ends meet. Officials have vowed zero tolerance for the violence that has marred
the weekly protests since they began two months ago, deploying some 80,000
security forces nationwide.

In Paris,
epicenter of the fiery street clashes and vandalism that have made global
headlines, 5,000 riot police were on hand, using tall barricades and armored
vehicles to lock down the central Place de la Concorde and surrounding
districts. Hundreds of officers were also on guard on the Champs-Elysees, where
banks, jewelry stores and other shops had boarded up windows in anticipation of
renewed looting and violence.

Yet many cafes
and retailers on the iconic avenue remained open for business, as several
thousands of protesters marched calmly from the Place de la Bastille toward the
Arc de Triomphe early in the afternoon. Many sang the "Marseillaise"
national anthem, while others held signs saying "Insecurity is not a

At times the
crowd yelled "Free Christophe!" in reference to Christophe Dettinger,
the former professional boxer arrested last week after being filmed bashing two
police officers during the Paris demos. Police said some 30 people had been
detained in the capital earlier for carrying weapons or other charges.
"We've come to Paris to make ourselves heard, and we wanted to see for
ourselves at least once what's going on here," said Patrick, 37, who told
AFP he had travelled from the Savoie region of western France.

'Macron resign!'

In the
well-heeled race-horsing town of Chantilly just north of Paris, 1,000 or so
protesters marched through the centre before descending on the hippodrome where
they delayed the start of a race, local media said. And another 1,200
protesters gathered in the central city of Bourges, where some yellow-vest
organizers were hoping to those from areas far from the capital.

Signs said
"Macron resign!" and "France is angry," while local
prosecutor Joel Garrigue said five people had been detained after police
discovered a cache of ball bearings during a search of their car. The protests
also spilt over the border into eastern Belgium late on Friday, where one of
around 25 protesters manning a blockade died after being hit by a truck,
Belgian media reported.

Mutual mistrust

Officials had warned
of bigger and more violent protests than last week, when demonstrators rammed a
forklift truck through the main doors of a government ministry in Paris.
"Those who are calling to demonstrate tomorrow know there will be
violence, and therefore they are in part responsible," Interior Minister
Christophe Castaner said in a Facebook interview Friday with Brut, a digital
news site favored by many yellow vests.

But many yellow
vests pointed to images of a police officer repeatedly striking an unarmed man
on the ground during a protest last week in Toulon, accusing the police of
excessive use of force. The movement, which began as protests over high fuel
taxes, has snowballed into a wholesale rejection of Macron and his policies,
which are seen favouring the wealthy at the expense of rural and small-town

inspire 'distrust, disgust'

Macron has called
for a national debate starting next week to hear voters' grievances, hoping to
sate demands for more of a say in national law-making and tamp down the
protesters' anger. He has already unveiled a 10-billion-euro ($11.5 billion)
financial relief package for low earners, and axed the planned fuel tax hike.
But the public consultations risk being hobbled by record levels of distrust
towards politicians and representatives of the state.

A poll by the
Cevipof political sciences institute released Friday showed 77 percent of
respondents thought politicians inspired "distrust",
"disgust" or "boredom". And Macron may not have done
himself any favors on Friday, when he told a gathering at the Elysee Palace
that "too many of our citizens think they can get something without making
the necessary effort." - AFP