Paris police fired water cannon and teargas to repel gilets jaunes (yellow vest) demonstrators from around the Arc de Triomphe on Saturday in the ninth straight weekend of protests against the economic reforms of the French president, Emmanuel Macron.
Thousands of protesters also marched, noisily but peacefully, through the Grands Boulevards shopping area in northern Paris, close to where a major gas explosion in a bakery killed two firefighters and injured nearly 50 people early on Saturday.
Central Paris was in lockdown against another feared eruption of violence by radical elements in the gilets jaunes movement, with bridges across the Seine closed and official buildings, such as parliament and the Élysée Palace, protected by police barriers.
Groups of protesters also gathered on and around the Champs Élysées boulevard, the scene of disturbances in recent weeks, many of them calling loudly for Macron to resign.
“Macron, we are going to tear down your place!” one banner read.
Around the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs Élysées, riot police unleashed water cannon and teargas at protesters after being pelted with stones and paint, witnesses said.
By mid-afternoon, there had been no major clashes with police like those of previous weeks. Over 50 people were arrested in the city, some for carrying objects that could be used as weapons.
There were also thousands of marchers in Bordeaux and Toulon in southern France, as well as Strasbourg in the east and the central city of Bourges.
Bourges authorities said nearly 5,000 gilets jaunes stuck to the designated demonstration area, but another 500 had pushed into the city centre, which was off-limits for demonstrators.
Many businesses in Bourges had boarded themselves up to avoid damage, and authorities had removed street furniture and building-site materials that could be used for barricades.
In Strasbourg, up to 2,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the European parliament building and later marched to the centre of the city. Protesters set garbage bins ablaze and police fired a few teargas grenades, but no serious violence or looting was reported.
More than 80,000 police were on duty for the protests nationwide, including 5,000 in Paris.
The gilets jaunes take their name from the high-visibility jackets they wear. They are protesting because of a squeeze on household incomes and a belief that Macron, a former investment banker regarded as close to big business, is indifferent to their hardships.
Macron, often criticised for his monarchical manner, is to launch a national debate on Tuesday to try to mollify the protesters, whose unrest has shaken his administration.
The debate, to be held on the internet and in town halls, will focus on four themes – taxes, green energy, institutional reform and citizenship. But aides to Macron have said that changing the course of his reforms aimed at liberalising the economy will be off-limits.