By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS (Reuters) – Demonstrators torched cars and pelted police with stones and bottles and police fired tear gas and water cannon in Paris on Saturday as rallies to mark the first anniversary of the anti-government “yellow vest” demonstrations erupted into violence.
A total of 28,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday including 4,700 in Paris, the interior ministry said.
This was more than in recent weeks but 10 times less the record 282,000 estimated for the whole country on Nov. 17, 2018, the first day of the protests.
In Paris, police took 124 people in for questioning and 78 people were in custody , the authorities said.
Demonstrators, many clad in black and hiding their faces, vandalized an HSBC bank branch at the Place d’Italie. They set trash bins on fire, hurled cobblestones and bottles at riot police, and erected barricades.
Several cars were set ablaze. Police responded with tear gas and blasts from water cannon.
Clashes also broke out between demonstrators and police near the Porte de Champerret, close to the Arc de Triomphe, as protesters prepared to march across town toward Gare d’Austerlitz.
Police also intervened to prevent a few hundred demonstrators from occupying the Paris ring road.
Paris police prefect Didier Lallement canceled permission for a scheduled demonstration in view of the violence.
There were still a few scattered clashes in Les Halles area in central Paris by early evening.
In other cities, yellow vest demonstrations were largely peaceful, with 1,000 people marching in Marseille in southern France.
The yellow vest protests, named for the high-visibility jackets worn by demonstrators, erupted in November 2018 over fuel price hikes and the high cost of living. The demonstrations spiraled into a broader movement against President Emmanuel Macron and his economic reforms.
The protests have lost strength in recent months but leaders called for people to turn out on Saturday to mark the anniversary.
Protests have been banned near tourists spots such as the Eiffel Tower and 20 subway stations were closed on Saturday.
The yellow vest movement was one of the toughest challenges to Macron’s presidency before it dwindled in the early summer.
It evolved from nationwide road blockades into a series of often-violent demonstrations that pitted rowdy protesters with police and ravaged Paris and other cities.
The crisis forced Macron to make policy concessions and delay the next wave of reforms, including overhauling the pension and unemployment systems.
Macron’s plans to simplify the unwieldy and expensive pension system, which he says will make it fairer, is particularly unpopular.
Trade unions have called on railway workers, Paris public transport staff, truck drivers and civil servants to strike against the pensions overhaul on Dec. 5 and in some cases beyond. Students and yellow vest protesters have called for people to join forces with the unions.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, additional reporting Richard Lough, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)