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Gilets Jaunes: 137 arrested in Paris as protesters clash with police

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Motorbikes on fire at Yellow Vest protest on Saturday
Motorbikes on fire at Yellow Vest protest on Saturday -
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REUTERS/Yves Herman
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Clashes broke out in Paris on Saturday during the 23rd day of national action by the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement after authorities warned they expected the protest to be marred by anger-fuelled violence following the blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Police had arrested 137 protesters in Paris by 15:40 CEST, the Prefecture de Police confirmed to Euronews.

It also warned on social media that "violent groups have formed in the procession" and called on protesters to "disassociate yourself from these group, let law enforcement and emergency services intervene."

Images on social media showed protesters and police clashing in some places, particularly near Bastille and Republique with protesters throwing rocks and starting fires and police using tear gas.

As of 1200 GMT, a total of 9,600 people were demonstrating across France, including 6,700 in Paris, the interior ministry said.

'The threat is serious'

Talking to reporters on Friday, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, said that intelligence services expected rioters to take to the streets in several cities including Toulouse, Montpellier and Bordeaux but "most particularly in Paris."

"The rioters have visibly not been moved by what happened at Notre-Dame," Castaner added, criticising the "polemic" and "the most absurd conspiracy theories" that surfaced following the blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday. He also condemned calls made on social media to protest near the ravaged monument.

"The threat is serious and calls for a reinforced presence," he said.

The Prefecture de Police has imposed a security perimeter around the cathedral until Monday some 60,000 police officers were deployed across the country.

'Crazy money'

The devastating blaze on Monday evening was followed by an outpouring of sadness and a moment of national unity.

About €1 billion has been pledged so far to restore the 850-year-old building. These were boosted by donations from some of the country's wealthiest families including the Arnault and Pinault families, owners of luxury groups LVMH and Kering respectively, and the Bettencourt, the family behind the L'Oreal beauty empire, as well as companies such as Total, BNP, Société Générale and Sanofi.

However, many in the Gilets Jaunes movement —which started in mid-November as a rally against planned fuel tax hikes but quickly morphed into a larger societal crisis about inequality — soon turned angry over these donations.

Ingrid Levavasseur, one of the prominent figures of the protest railed against "these millionaires who release crazy money" for Notre Dame but who cannot be "bothered to release this crazy money for people who suffer daily" in a video posted on Facebook.

She also criticised the government for promising to unblock funds for the restoration on the day of the disaster, but not doing the same "to help others."

The CGT, France's biggest trade union confederation, also denounced the donations in a statement following the fire at Notre Dame, arguing they would be "less questionable without the massive tax exemptions which shift the burden of solidarity upon taxpayers, while giving rich donors an image of generosity."

"The obole "generously" granted by these leaders shows that billions of euros can be mobilized to respond to social emergencies if we look for money where it is," the statement added.