Deadly Paris protest becomes expression of French discontent, threatens to upend political system

PARIS — It was like something out of a Victor Hugo novel, updated for the 21st century: Vandals wrote graffiti on convenience stores and iconic national monuments. Students lit fires in trash cans and torched cars. Demonstrators blocked major highways, gas stations and toll booths. Police shot tear gas and water cannons into crowds of angry rioters, leaving hundreds injured.

France’s most iconic boulevard, the Champs-Elysees, was a haze of smoke and gas and screams as demonstrators chanted, “It’s the hour of revolt.”

Some see a spontaneous uprising against the policies and personality of French President Emmanuel Macron, sparked by a deeply unpopular hike in the gas tax. But others say the French political system is the target, the kickoff to an amorphous, leaderless, generalized revolt against the elites who have long dominated statecraft.

France, political commentator Nicolas Beytout wrote in the daily newspaper L’Opinion, “is dancing on a volcano.”

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