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Defying coronavirus ban, hundreds of 'Yellow Vests' protest in Paris

French security forces fired tear gas and clashed with anti-government "Yellow Vest" protesters who were demonstrating in Paris on Saturday ,March 14, in defiance of a ban on mass gatherings that aims to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced school closures and urged people to avoid close contact for fear of propagating the virus that has killed 79 people in France and infected more than 3,600.

The government on Friday banned all gatherings of more than 100 people. Paris police had already turned down requests for protesters to convene at sensitive sites, including the Champs Elysees where there were violent clashes between security forces and protesters almost a year ago to the day.

"Yellow vest" protesters, many having participated numerous times in regular weekend demonstrations, criticized the ban on gatherings, saying keeping the metro and other transport services running could pose a greater health risk.

Central Paris had earlier been in lockdown, with police searching bags over concerns the protesters would seek to return to the Champs Elysees. The police cordon had been eased by lunchtime.

Hundreds of protesters, some wearing protective medical masks, had marched early on Saturday from Montparnasse train station, chanting anti-Macron slogans. By mid-afternoon, tension had grown. A police source put the numbers at about 400.

Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades in attempts to disperse the crowds and clashed with individuals as about 2,000 security forces were deployed across the city to manage the situation. Paris police said on Twitter that 25 people had been arrested.

The protesters, named after the high-visibility jackets they wear, were holding a 70th consecutive Saturday of action. The movement emerged late in 2018, triggered by fuel tax rises, and swelled into a revolt against Macron's government.

While protests are now much smaller, anger at Macron's government remains and Saturday's demonstration served as a reminder to the president a day before local elections.

Sunday's vote is an important test for Macron, with opponents now particularly angered by his plans to reform the French pensions system. His party is not expected to do well.

(Source: Reuters) 

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