Four People Killed as Gas Leak Causes Huge Explosion in Central Paris amid Continuous "Yellow Vests" Protests

A huge explosion has rocked the central part of the French capital, Paris, killing four people as the city braces itself for the next round of anti-government protests.

The blast took place in the 9th district of Paris on Saturday morning.

France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said four people had been killed as a result of the blast. Two of those killed were firefighters.

At least 36 people were wounded, including 12 that suffered critical injuries, according to Paris fire department spokesman Eric Moulin.

Pictures shared on social media showed the windows blown out of a building with rubble strewn across the street.
The cause of the incident remained unclear but French authorities said the blast was believed to be cause by a gas leak inside a bakery store.

Paris police warned the public in a tweet and called on residents to "avoid the area and allow the passage of the emergency vehicles.”

The development comes ahead of the ninth executive weekend of anti-government “yellow vest” protests across the country.

France Braces for New 'Yellow Vest' Protests as Officials Vow Tough Response

French authorities have vowed zero tolerance for violence as the country braces for a fresh round of anti-government “yellow vest” protests, a movement that has rattled the administration of President Emanuel Macron, Press T.V reported.

Officials said on Friday that they expected the ninth consecutive weekend of the rallies to be bigger and possibly more violent than the previous ones as the anti-government movement seems to be gathering momentum.

Michel Delpuech, the Paris police chief, said he expected protesters in the French capital city to outnumber the estimated 3,500 who attempted to march on the National Assembly last Saturday, also predicting they would be "more tempted by violence.”

Reports said 5,000 officers along with armored vehicles were ready to be deployed in Paris.

Shops in the neighborhood surrounding Paris' Champs Elysees avenue were also getting ready for the fresh round of anti-government protests, using wooden panels to protect their displays, according to witnesses.

Thousands of “yellow vest” protesters were expected to descend on the central cathedral city of Bourges for the first time this week. City officials had already outlawed any kinds of gatherings in the historic city center. They also closed down public buildings and gardens, removed parking meters, benches and other urban furniture.

"I hope that in a city where there's been no incidents since the start of the movement, the mobilization will be strong and peaceful," one of the protest organizers said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Le Pen slams government response to protests

French far-right politician Marine Le Pen, the head of the country’s National Front party, denounced the government's reaction to the movement as "disturbing.”

"To accuse all protesters of 'complicity' with the thugs: here is a new verbal provocation and legal ineptitude waiting to undermine our rule of law," she wrote on Twitter.

The comments are made as the level of participation on Saturday is believed to pave the way for next week’s national debate on addressing the protesters’ grievances.

Macron has expressed hope that the debate will help defuse the crisis, but a recent national poll has found 77 percent of the French "distrust" the process.

The “yellow vest” movement initially erupted in November amid public outrage over a planned hike in fuel prices. The embattled French president later backed down and suspended the hike, but the protests did not stop and turned into a broader campaign against high costs of living blamed on Macron’s economic policies.

Many of the protesters are demanding the resignation of Macron, a demand dismissed as undemocratic by the government.

The “yellow vest” campaign is said to be the biggest political crisis of Macron’s 20-month presidency and has brought his popularity ratings to an all-time low.

In recent weeks, some of the protests have turned into major riots described as the most violent clashes in France in decades.

Public anger appeared to have abated over the New Year holiday period; however, the detention of Eric Drouet, one of the leaders of the movement, seems to have rekindled resentment among his supporters.

Since the onset of the movement, 10 people have been killed and more than 1,500 have been injured. Fifty of the injury cases were serious. Thousands more have been arrested by security forces.