Officials have vowed zero tolerance for the violence that has marred the weekly protests since they began two months ago, deploying some 80,000 security forces nationwide.

In Paris, epicentre of the fiery street clashes and vandalism that have made global headlines, 5,000 riot police were on hand, using tall barricades and armoured vehicles to lock down the central Place de la Concorde and surrounding districts.

Hundreds of officers were also on guard on the Champs-Elysees, where banks, jewellery stores and other shops had boarded up windows in anticipation of renewed looting and violence.

Yet many cafes and retailers on the iconic avenue remained open for business, with workers washing the windows on the first weekend of post-holiday sales.

Businesses have taken a heavy hit since the protests began in November, losing out on millions of euros in Christmas revenue as shoppers steered clear of the protests.

After easing slightly over the holidays, the protests were expected to intensify on Saturday, surpassing the estimated 50,000 who turned out for last weekend’s demos, wearing their emblematic high-visibility safety vests.

‘We’ll make ourselves heard’

At around 11:00 am (1000 GMT), thousands of protesters gathered near the Gare de Lyon train station for a march towards the Arc de Triomphe — which had been covered in graffiti and ransacked during daylong clashes with police in November.

“We’ve come to Paris to make ourselves heard, and we wanted to see for ourselves at least once what’s going on here,” said Patrick, 37, who told AFP he had travelled from the Savoie region of western France.

Another 1,000 or so protesters gathered in Chantilly, a well-heeled horseracing town just north of Paris, where they marched through the centre before descending on the hippodrome where they delayed the start of a race, local media said.

And another 1,200 protesters began gathering in the central city of Bourges, (see pic below) where some yellow-vest organisers were hoping to attract those from areas far from Paris.

Local prosecutor Joel Garrigue said five people had been detained after police discovered a cache of ball bearings during a search of their car.

The protests also spilt over the border into eastern Belgium late on Friday, where one of around 25 protesters manning a blockade died after being hit by a truck, Belgian media reported.

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