A French police officer drew his gun and pointed it at the “Yellow vest” protesters who were throwing stones and even scooters at him and badly outnumbered fellow officers. In a major escalation of the weeks long protests in Paris, police used aggressive tactics to beat down the protesters angered by deteriorating living standards and the arrogance of the ruling elite.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for “the most severe” legal repercussions against violent protesters. After a sixth straight weekend of demonstrations by the grassroots movement demanding more help for French workers, Macron called for “order, calm and unity”.

Most of the protesters were peaceful and their numbers were down compared to previous weeks, but in parts of Paris there were serious clashes with the police using tear gas and water cannons to disperse the “Yellow Vests”.

The video of the gun-wielding policeman surrounded by protesters happened near the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris and circulated widely online. He briefly pulled out the weapon after being pushed off his motorcycle and did not fire, but the threat of lethal action shocked many in France. He and other police then fled the scene.

Police say they’re acting in self-defense. The officer with the gun “did the right thing. It allowed a moment of pause, which allowed my colleagues to leave the scene safely,” said Rocco Contento of the French police union Unite FGP. “It’s a deterrent.”