French security forces fired tear gas and flash-balls after a march through picturesque central Paris went from peaceful to provocative Saturday as several thousand protesters staged the yellow vest movement's first action of 2019 to keep up pressure on President Emmanuel Macron, the AP reports. A riverboat restaurant moored below the clashes on the Left Bank of the Seine River caught fire. Smoke and tear gas wafted above the Orsay Museum and the gold dome of the French Academy as riot police, nearly invisible at the start of the demonstration, moved front and center when protesters deviated from an officially approved path. Fires burned in other parts of Paris as a motorcycle and a car were set ablaze as police put up barricades and used clubs and tear gas to keep protesters off a pedestrian bridge.
Saturday's march had been declared in advance and approved, in contrast to some illegal December demonstrations that degenerated into vandalism, looting, and chaos. The latest demonstration was a sort of test of the movement's staying power after proposals by Macron to address concerns of the French who have a hard time making ends meet, including canceling the fuel tax hikes at the origin of the protests. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner estimated that about 50,000 people participated in protests around France on Saturday. Police counted some 3,500 protesters in Paris. Video on French TV showed a man repeatedly stomping on an officer in riot gear on the ground and hitting the shield of another officer. Some confrontations took place in other cities around France, with tear gas fired in Bordeaux and in Rouen in Normandy. (See how Macron "blew it.")