Thousands of protesters defied the state of emergency that was imposed in Paris in the aftermath of the recent terror attacks, gathering on Sunday to call for world leaders to take action to fight climate change during a summit in the French capital.
The demonstration started out peacefully, with protesters forming a large human chain that stretched for nearly two miles from the Place de la Republique to Place de la Nation. Around 20,000 pairs of shoes were laid out in the Place de la Republique, symbolizing absent marchers after attacks by Islamic State militants killed 130 people on November 13 and led France to ban protests at the climate summit.
Costumed protesters dressed as penguins and kangaroos held up signs, including some that disparaged the event — to be attended by US President Barack Obama and China's Xi Jinping, among more than 140 other world leaders — as essentially useless. Others made earnest pleas for action against global warming, and the atmosphere was mostly calm until a group of masked anarchists clad in black arrived on the scene.
As the crowd was dispersing, VICE News reporters on the scene witnessed clashes erupt between the anarchists and riot police. The melee lasted for at least an hour and a half and ended with hundreds of riot police and vans moving into the square and starting to make arrests.
Rioters hurled beer cans and glasses at the cops, who retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades. The anarchists moved through the various police blockades around Place de la Republique, chanting in French "State of emergency, police state, you won't take away our right to protest!"
Police eventually established a perimeter and closed in on the unruly demonstrators, handcuffing several people in the street. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Sunday afternoon that 208 people were arrested, and 174 are still in custody.
With a helicopter hovering overhead and tear gas mist rising from the street, protesters launched red flares and hurled some sort of incendiary device at police that exploded in flames. It's unclear if anyone was seriously injured in the fracas.
The Paris protest was one of more than 2,000 events held in cities worldwide, including Sydney, Berlin, London, Sao Paulo, and New York, making it perhaps the biggest day of climate action in history. The Paris conference runs from November 30 to December 11.
Activists in France scaled back their plans when the government imposed a state of emergency after the Paris attacks and banned the march in Paris on security grounds. France put 24 green activists under house arrest before the summit, Cazeneuve said on Saturday, saying they were suspected of planning violent protests at the talks.
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Reuters contributed to this report.