The protests against President Macron's economic policies continue despite his announcement to cancel the planned fuel tax hikes, raise the minimum wage and provide tax relief for pensioners in 2019.

Tear gas floats in the air during clashes with police at a demonstration by the
Tear gas floats in the air during clashes with police at a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Nantes, France, on December 15, 2018. (Reuters)

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of French cities on Saturday in the fifth weekend of nationwide demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron's government, despite calls to hold off after a shooting in Strasbourg earlier this week.

In Paris, police were out in force to contain possible outbursts of violence. But several major stores, such as the Galeries Lafayette, were open to welcome Christmas shoppers.

Saturday saw mostly peaceful anti-government demonstrations in the French capital but violence broke out at its margins, as groups of protesterss tried to break through police lines as they protested France's high cost of living.

TRT World's Francis Collings reports from Paris.

An estimated 66,000 people took to the streets across France, according to figures from the interior ministry at 6:00 pm local time, (1700 GMT), half the level of a week ago.

n Paris, the more than 8,000 police on duty easily outnumbered the 2,200 protesters who were counted on the streets of the capital by local authorities in the early afternoon.

There had been 168 arrests by 6:00 pm local time (1700 GMT), far down on the roughly 1,000 of last Saturday.

There were clashes at Opera, where some demonstrators had gathered to voice their grievances.

And French police unleashed repeated discharges of tear gas along Paris' premier shopping street, the Champs-Elysees, although the back-and-forth fell short of previous violence that had scarred the avenue with broken windows and looted stores.

Though tear gas was fired, but it was a fraction of the amount that was used on the weekends of December 8 or December 1 when graffiti was daubed on the Arc de Triomphe in scenes that shocked France.

On the Champs-Elysees, a handful of topless activists from the feminist protest group Femen faced security forces a few metres away from the Elysee Palace, the president's residence.

Seventh protester dies in accident

Belgian police on Saturday said a man has died after he crashed his car into a truck at a protesters' roadblock on the Franco-Belgian border.

The accident brings to seven the number of protest-related deaths since the wave of anti-government demonstrations began a month ago. All deaths have appeared to be results of accidents.

'France needs calm'

The Interior Minister said around 69,000 police officers were active on Saturday with a reinforced presence in the cities of Toulouse, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne.

On Friday, President Macron called for a return to calm in France after nearly a month of protests against his government's policies. The demonstrations have hit growth and caused widespread disruption.

"France needs calm, order and a return to normal," Macron said, after a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels.

Violent clashes

The yellow vest movement started in mid-November with protests at junctions and roundabouts against fuel tax increases, but quickly became a wider mobilisation against Macron's economic policies.

Successive weekends of protests in Paris have lead to vandalism and violent clashes with security forces.

In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Macron announced wage rises for the poorest workers and tax cuts for pensioners in further concessions meant to end the movement but many said they would maintain pressure.

The government, as well as several unions and opposition politicians also called on protesters to stay off the streets on Saturday, after four people were killed in a gun attack at a Christmas market in the historic city of Strasbourg.

Source: Reuters