Police use water cannon as number of ‘yellow vest’ protesters rises

Gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protesters march through Paris on Saturday, hours after the blast which killed two firefighters.

(CNN) — Police fired water cannon and tear gas at “gilets jaunes” or yellow vest protesters in central Paris, who have marched through the city for the ninth consecutive weekend.

A total of 59 people were questioned by authorities, on charges including unlawful weapons and participating in a group with the goal of committing violent crimes.

Violent clashes occurred on the Champs-Elysées, a epicenter of the protests which have brought repeated disruption to the city.

The total number of demonstrators has also risen from last weekend, the country’s Interior Ministry said.

More than 32,000 people were taking part across France at 2 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET) on Saturday, a rise of 6,000 compared to the same time seven days ago.

In Paris itself, 8,000 were marching, a fourfold increase on last weekend.

The protests began as a campaign against a gas tax hike, but have morphed into a broader rally against President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

They caused many tourist sites and landmarks to be closed in anticipation of violent scenes.

Some of the demonstrations in the capital on Saturday took place near the Rue de Trevise in the city’s 9th arrondissement, where hours earlier an explosion at a bakery killed two firefighters and a Spanish citizen.

In his New Year’s address, Macron referred to the movement without naming it specifically.

He acknowledged anger against injustice but said hateful speech would not be tolerated, and called on people to respect each other.

Last month, he pledged to increase the minimum wage and scrap new pension taxes, in an effort to appease the protesters.

At least 10 deaths have been linked to the protests, with most taking place in traffic accidents related to blockades in November and December.

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