French police have fired tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters marching on the Champs-Elysees in the capital Paris.
The so-called yellow vest protesters opposing diesel tax hikes and the high cost of living gathered at the top of the grandest avenue in Paris on Saturday morning.
Police already blocked access to the avenue, and strictly conduced identity checks and bag inspections. Riot police used tear gas and water cannon against protesters as they were trying to break the blockade and force their way through.
According to a Paris police spokeswoman, at least 24 people had already been arrested.
The protests initially began last month after President Emmanuel Macron announced controversial hikes in diesel prices to encourage a transition towards greener energy.
Previous protests have ended with violence, with two people killed and over 600 injured.
Over the past year, the cost of diesel, the most commonly used fuel in cars in France, has risen by 23 percent.
Many people, however, are now say that they are protesting against President Macron, whom they consider as part of an elitist coterie that neither understands, nor cares how they live.
“And then there’s the disdain — he openly mocks people,” said a protester. “We called him the ‘president of the rich’ from the beginning.”
Macron took office last year with a pledge to revitalize the economy; but many voters ranging from conservative pensioners to low-income workers complain that his pro-business policies have mostly benefit companies and the rich.
Protests have also spread to the Belgian capital, where police fired tear gas and used water cannon against some 300 demonstrators.
Police said at least 60 people were arrested in possession of box-cutters, smoke bombs or tear gas canisters. It also said that protesters torched two police vans and disrupted traffic in Brussels.
They were also seen throwing rocks at the office building of Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Demonstrators were asking for lower taxes and more purchasing power. Some also demanded the prime minister’s resignation chanting “Michel, resign.”
“Our prime minister earns €25,000 per month while we get €1,200 to live, raise kids, pay rent and taxes, we never have enough,” said a protester in a yellow vest.
“We are slaves; we work so that they can live like kings,” he said.
“We want this movement to spread,” said another protester. “It began in France, it is here now, and we want it to continue to Germany and the Netherlands, across Europe, even to England.”
The Belgian prime minster has pushed ahead with an unpopular reform plan under which he will raise the retirement age to 67 from the current 65 and the retiring workers will see the retirement wage reduced even further.