Singaporean's painful experience with tear gas in Paris riots
Hundreds injured and detained after latest protests spark worst violence in French capital in a decade
Student Shen Zhaohan was riding the metro in Paris when smoke entered his train cabin as it passed Concorde station close to the Champs-Elysee.
The 21-year-old Singaporean thought it was a fire and rushed to the other end of the train, only to realise the smoke was tear gas.
He said there was an announcement telling passengers to close the windows, but by then it was too late.
"We covered our eyes and nose with our clothing to prevent it from getting in our eyes, but it was still very painful. It was a terrible experience," Mr Shen, a final-year student at the American University of Paris, told The New Paper.
His Nov 24 brush with the mass protests against rising fuel costs and a planned increase in fuel taxes was followed by more violence.
Known as the "yellow vest" movement after the reflective jackets that must be kept in all vehicles in France, the first protests involving 282,000 people took place on Nov 17, and there were 106,000 protesters in the second on Nov 24, both of which saw pockets of violence.
But the most recent protests last Saturday, involving about 130,000 people, sparked the worst violence in Paris in a decade as groups of masked men vandalised attractions like the Arc de Triomphe and the Tuileries Garden and set buildings and vehicles ablaze.
Condemning the riots, Paris police chief Michel Delpuech said six buildings, more than 130 makeshift barricades and 112 vehicles were set on fire.
More than 260 people were injured and about 280 people detained after rioters armed with hammers and gardening tools clashed with riot police.
French president Emmanuel Macron, who flew back from the G20 summit in Argentina, told Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to meet legitimate protest groups and opposition politicians to calm tensions and stop "professional" rioters from infiltrating the protests.
Mr Shen, who lives close to the protest areas, said he could hear police and ambulance sirens throughout the demonstrations.
He added: "I heard some protesters shouting and there was smoke, but I tried to stay indoors at night."
Singaporean shoe designer Mashizan Masjum, 46, told The Straits Times that he could see overturned vehicles, some in flames, from his studio near the Arc de Triomphe.
Mr Mashizan, who moved to Paris last year, said of the protests: "At some point, it turned violent, so we closed our shutters. (But) we could still hear the sounds of tear gas bombs being deployed. Luckily, nothing happened to our place."
Travel agencies TNP spoke to said that all their tour groups are safe and accounted for.
Chan Brothers Travel's senior marketing communications executive Justine Koh said the itineraries of its five groups in Paris were adjusted to avoid the affected areas.
Dynasty Travel's director of public relations and communications Alicia Seah said it is in contact with its three groups currently in Europe. "We will amend our tour programme if required to ensure safety for our travellers," she added.