Violence broke out on the streets of Paris today as anti riot police confronted a mass of French yellow vest protesters on the 13th consecutive weekend of demonstrations.
Tear gas and baton charges were used around the Champs Elysee, after demonstrators threw stones at officers and vandals tried to smash shop windows.
Shocking footage shows protesters gathering around a man whose hand appears to have been ripped off which spurts blood as he cries in pain.
Other grisly scenes show demonstrators trying to topple boards, throwing planks of wood and cornering police as more tear gas is thrown.
Many businesses were shut as the Yellow Vests – who are named after their high visibility jackets – mobilised across the country.
Four armoured cars containing chemical weapons dispensers were being used to patrol the demonstration, together with water canons and other police vehicles.
In shocking footage, a detonation is heard before a group of protesters call out for medics and surround someone whose hand is seen very severely injured. It was reportedly torn off by a detonating sting grenade.
The protest in the French capital has passed the National Assembly and will end up near the Eiffel Tower.
It follows months of continual unrest, including riots that saw the Arc de Triomphe and other public monuments attacked, with shops looted and set on fire.
An officer at the scene said: ‘Extremists wearing black balaclavas have infiltrated the crowds and are intent on violence.’
Among those in the crowd was Jerome Rodrigues, a leading Yellow Vest who lost an eye after being hit by a fragment from a rubber bullet fired at him last month.
Like others who have been mutilated by such weapons he called for them to ‘be outlawed immediately,’ but they were still in use today.
Eric Drouet, another Yellow Vests leader, said the incident justified ‘a mass uprising without precedent by all useful and necessary means.’
Such words were of huge concern for President Macron, who has accused British politicians of ‘tearing society apart’ by allowing a Brexit referendum in Britain.
It comes as a criminal enquiry was launched after an arson attack on the home of the President of France’s National Assembly.
Richard Ferrand, who is the equivalent of the Speaker in Britain’s House of Commons and a close personal friend of President Emmanuel Macron, described the attack on the property in his Brittany constituency as ‘violence and intimidation’.
The National Gendarmerie discovered a blanket, tire residue and a homemade torch soaked in fuel on the site, leaving ‘the criminal origin in no doubt,’ according to a statement from Mr Ferrand’s office.
The Yellow Vests have been joined by extremists from the far Right and the ultra-Left, as well as anarchists intent on causing as much damage as possible.
The independent Mr Macron, leader of the Republic On The Move party, won the French presidential election in a landslide in 2017, but he is now dubbed the ‘President of the Rich’ with polls showing his popularity rating struggling to get above 30 per cent.
Today’s ugly scenes are typical of those that have regularly reduced Paris and other towns and cities to a war zone.
The yellow vest activists, who have brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets over the past three months, are now trying to achieve electoral success but the movement is politically divided and has no appointed leader.
President Emmanuel Macron – the target of many demonstrators’ anger – seems to be clawing back support as he tries to quell the movement with a national political debate. Recent polls show Macron’s approval ratings rising.
Several competing groups of yellow vests are getting ready to present candidates for the European Parliament election in May, while other figures insist the movement must remain non-political.
Around 69,000 people nationwide took part in French protests last week, down from more than 80,000 the previous two weekends, according to the French Interior Ministry.
The yellow vests movement began in November and was named after the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists must carry.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Peter Allen and Sophie Law