Student from Northern Ireland caught up in terrifying French Yellow Vest rally
A Northern Ireland student has told how she was left badly shaken after being trapped in a tear gas-filled underground Metro in Toulouse during a Yellow Vest demonstration.
Naomi Clingen was visiting the French city with her friend Poppy Scott and had taken the Metro to Jean Jaures when the drama unfolded on Saturday.
They got out of the train and were trying to mount the stairs when five tear gas cannisters were thrown into the station.
Naomi (20), from Crumlin in Co Antrim, is a French and business studies student temporarily studying in Montpellier. Recalling her terror, she said: "At first it was more panic and confusion and then we started to feel and smell the tear gas. We were backed into a corner as it was fully covering us.
"It was heaviest around the escalator and we soon realised we were trapped down there. It would be more difficult to get up and get more air and out of the gas, which was what we needed."
The Yellow Vest demonstrations began last November, setting off a series of protests about a fuel tax increase and the high cost of living in France. Saturday was the 48th week of the anti-government rallies.
Naomi, a student at Edinburgh University, is on an Erasmus scheme, an initiative for students to study in Europe while completing a degree.
"We were very scared. It was probably one of the scariest things that has ever happened to me," she said.
"It was so horrible. You could not see anything when opening your eyes. Opening your eyes burned and it was hard to breathe. I didn't realise the tear gas was that bad."
The pair waited around 10 minutes before the air cleared and they attempted to get up the steps of the Metro again to safety.
When they realised the impact of what had happened, they became emotional.
"When we went up the stairs it was difficult as my eyes still burned to look and we were hiding our faces in my jacket," Naomi said.
"We came out crying from the gas, but we were also actually crying because of what had happened to us."
When she climbed the stairs, Naomi was met with a crowd. Some people reassured and comforted the two friends.
The pair could not get out of the centre as they did not want to travel again on the Metro.
"We just sat on a rooftop bar and saw how intense it got on the streets," Naomi added.
Naomi said it was hours before they were able to safely leave the city.
Despite what happened, she said it would not stop her from visiting Toulouse.
Naomi, who has been in France for two months, said she had witnessed other protests in France but nothing like the one she saw on Saturday.
She added: "It was very easy to get caught up in it all. All the people in the city were stopped, so we could not get around freely, but I stayed away from the thick of it. We were very shaken up and anxious."