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By Lucy Kafanov and Linda Givetash
PARIS — Protesters wearing their now-famous yellow vests held a minute’s silence on the streets of the French capital Saturday morning for those injured and killed in clashes with police. It was a brief moment of quiet amid weeks of demonstrations that have roiled the country and seized global attention.
In Paris, armed officers patrolled eerily empty streets as authorities braced for the fifth consecutive weekend of nationwide protests against President Emmanuel Macron.
Some storefronts were boarded up, though others remained open to welcome Christmas shoppers.
An estimate 33,000 people took to the streets — less than half the number seen the previous weekend. The demonstrations were largely peaceful and clashes were contained.
The “yellow vest” protests began last month against planned tax hikes on gas but have since morphed into a wider rebuke of Macron’s presidency and an expression of anger at his attempts to reform France’s long-ailing economy.
Escalating riots forced Paris into lockdown, while violent clashes with police resulted in hundreds of arrests, along with many injuries and six deaths.
The number of fatalities increased Saturday when a driver died after colliding with a truck that had been stopped by a barrage of “yellow vest” protesters near the Belgian border.
In preparation for this weekend’s demonstrations, 8,000 police were deployed across the city while thousands more were stationed across the country. Six people were arrested in the capital before 9 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET). That number had increased more than ten-fold within three hours.
Police were out in full riot gear while water cannons were on standby, ready to control unruly crowds.
Tear gas was fired at a small group of protesters near the Champs-Élysées while a handful of topless activists from the feminist protest group Femen encountered security forces near the president’s residence, the Élysées Palace.
About a thousand people gathered by the city’s opera house and another thousand gathered at the Arc de Triomphe, which was vandalized with spray paint in previous demonstrations. Despite occasional clashes, the crowd was relatively calm in comparison to recent weeks when an estimated 10,000 protesters flooded the streets.
Macron has announced a series of concessions in an effort to quell the unrest.
He scrapped the unpopular gas tax increase, which was aimed at reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Macron accepted some responsibility for the protests and also announced wage rises for the poorest workers alongside tax cuts for pensioners.
On Friday, he called for an end to nearly a month of protests. “France needs calm, order and a return to normal,” Macron said.
The government has warned that the demonstrations are taking a toll on the country’s economy, as well as causing widespread disruption.
Lucy Kafanov reported from Paris, and Linda Givetash from London.
Margot Haddad, Reuters and Associated Press contributed.