PARIS — Violence erupted on Saturday in Paris in the 18th weekend of “Yellow Vest” demonstrations as protesters targeted symbols of economic privilege, setting multiple fires and smashing a high-end restaurant on the Champs-Élysées, even as the crowd’s numbers dwindled from past rallies.
Organizers for Saturday’s protests said on social media that they wanted the day to serve as an “ultimatum” to “the government and the powerful.”
The size of the movement that started in November over a proposed gas tax increase and came to embody general discontent against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies has been shrinking from weekend to weekend. But protesters have maintained a continuous presence every Saturday.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that 7,000 to 8,000 protesters had gathered in Paris on Saturday, with at least 1,500 casseurs, or “breakers,” among them. In the earliest demonstrations, late last year, more than a quarter-million people took to the streets across France.
Some turned out on Saturday to “break, fight to the finish and attack,” Mr. Castaner said, adding that others had tried to assault the Arc de Triomphe twice, reminiscent of the scenes of chaos in the early stages of the movement. (In January, protesters attacked a government building with a construction vehicle and forced a minister to be evacuated.)
The police had arrested 82 people by Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday, looters smashed the front of Fouquet’s, a restaurant that came to epitomize economic privilege after Nicolas Sarkozy hosted a party there on the night of his presidential election victory in 2007.
Footage shared online on Saturday showed flames licking at tables and curtains.
Protesters also broke the windows of shops selling luxury goods, and set fire to a bank near the Champs-Élysées. The flames spread through the rest of the building. Its occupants were evacuated, and firefighters later brought the blaze under control.
Mr. Macron has tried to quell the protesters’ anger but has yet to defuse the movement. France’s police forces have also come under heightened scrutiny after dozens of Yellow Vest protesters were injured by “dispersal grenades” and rubber pellets.
This past week, senators adopted a controversial law aimed at cracking down on protesters by allowing administrative rather than judiciary authorities to issue a ban on protests.
Yellow Vest protesters, who take their name from the fluorescent road-safety garment that French drivers must carry in their vehicles, have tried to breathe new life into a movement that has struggled to unite over all the grievances aimed at Mr. Macron and the elite.
More than 220 other marches were planned throughout France on Saturday, with tens of thousands of Yellow Vest protesters, anti-racist demonstrators and young people marching for “social and climate justice” in Paris.
Eric Drouet, a key figure in the movement, said Saturday’s march would be his last. “We’ve proved that marching wasn’t functioning,” he said in a video posted online, adding that he would continue the fight in other ways.