French President Emmanuel Macron condemned protesters who brought central Paris to a halt Saturday amid claims that the far right had infiltrated the march, which turned violent.
“Thank you to all our law enforcement, for their courage and professionalism. Shame on all the people who assaulted them,” Macron tweeted. “Shame to those who voluntarily assaulted citizens and reporters. Shame on those who tried to intimidate our elected.”
The demonstrations included protesters lighting fires and police using tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. One-hundred thirty people were arrested Saturday in protests across France, with 42 detained in Paris.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said two police officers and six other people were injured.
A protest organizer labeled the events a “civil war.”
“The objective was to unite everybody here in Paris. I am disappointed because it wasn’t meant to be like this,” Thierry Paul Valette, one of the organizers, told CNN.
He blamed it on a “small section” of “the extreme left and the extreme right.”
The protests came to the attention of US President Donald Trump on Sunday, who renewed his complaints about what he said was mistreatment of the US by Europe.
The “yellow vest” protests began as a campaign against rising gas prices and have morphed into a wider demonstration against Macron’s government in recent weeks, spreading as far as France’s Indian Ocean territory of Réunion.
Police said they have mobilized 3,000 officers in Paris to contain 8,000 protesters. A security perimeter was set up in the city center, with government buildings protected.
At a news conference Saturday, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner blamed the clashes on far-right extremists infiltrating the demonstrations.
“Today, the far right has mobilized,” Castaner told reporters. “The security forces perfectly anticipated this situation.”
He added: “The right to protest cannot go beyond the respect of the fundamental law of our country.”
There were more than 106,00 protesters nationwide, he said.
Far-right political leader Marine Le Pen rejected the accusations, describing them as a “pathetic and dishonest” form of “political manipulation” by the government.
Earlier Castaner said of the protesters: “Their freedom of expression will be guaranteed, but it must not be exercised to the detriment of security, public order and the right of everybody to come and go. There is no liberty without public order.”
Last weekend a protester was accidentally run over and killed by a car, and more than 200 people were injured during a demonstration in eastern France.
Macron under fire
Besides concerns over spiraling fuel prices, the protests also reflect long-running tensions between the metropolitan elite and rural poor.