Paris A Battle Zone As Protests Escalate

French riot police have fought street battles with protesters in central Paris in a third weekend of nationwide unrest against high living costs.

Police say they have arrested almost 300 people in Paris while almost 100 were injured as protesters hurled projectiles at riot officers, burned cars and smashed shop fronts.

In some areas, groups of masked men roamed freely on Saturday, smashing properties, burning cars and vandalising banks.

Protesters wearing Yellow Vests are surrounded by teargas grenades on the Champs Elysees. Image: Getty

Police fired stun grenades and tear gas and sprayed water at protesters at the top of the Champs-Elysees boulevard, at the Tuilleries Garden near the Louvre museum, and other sites across the city, including Opera and Place de la Bastille.

More than a dozen metro stations were closed.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in Argentina for a G20 summit, cancelled a planned visit to Poland on Monday for a climate change summit.

Protesters wearing Yellow Vests clash with the police. Image: Getty

He said he would convene ministers to discuss the crisis upon his return to France on Sunday.

The mayor of Paris' 8th district Jeanne d'Hauteserre said: "We are in a state of insurrection, I've never seen anything like it".

The popular rebellion erupted out of nowhere on November 17 and spread quickly via social media, with protesters in yellow vests blocking roads across France and impeding access to shopping malls, factories and some fuel depots.

Rally near the Arc De Triomphe as a fire is started during a 'Yellow Vest' protest. Image: Getty
Vehicles are damaged from protests on the Champs Elysees. Image: Getty

Addressing a news conference in Buenos Aires, Macron said no cause justified the looting of stores, attacks on security forces or torching of property.

The violence, he said, had nothing to do with the peaceful expression of legitimate grievances.

"I will always respect differences. I will always listen to opposition, but I will never accept violence," Macron said.

Protesters clash with riot police on the Place de l'Etoile. Image: Getty

Protesters smashed the windows of Paris shops, including branches of Chanel, Apple and Dior, where protesters daubed a wooden board "Merry Mayhem".

Security officials were locked inside the Interior Ministry for crisis talks for several hours during Saturday afternoon.

The skirmishes in Paris broke out early on Saturday, amid concern that violent far-right and far-left groups were infiltrating the "Gilets Jaunes" (yellow vests) movement.

Riot police covered with yellow paint secure the Arc de Triomphe area. Image: Getty

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said most of those arrested were regular "yellow vests" who had been egged on by fringe groups bent on stirring trouble.

The protests began as a backlash against Macron's fuel tax hikes, but have tapped into a vein of deep dissatisfaction felt towards the 40-year-old's economic reforms, which many voters feel favour the wealthy and big business.

Burnt cars are seen after yellow vests (gilets jaunes) protesters protected themselves against fire tear gas and water cannon during clash with riot police in Paris. Image: Getty

Unrest erupted in several towns and cities across France, from Charleville Mezieres in the northeast to Marseille in the south.

In the Riviera city of Nice trucks blocked access to the airport, and in the central town of Puy-en-Velay the police headquarters was set on fire.