TWO Edinburgh students were left badly shaken after they were trapped in a tear gas filled underground Metro station in France during a mass Yellow Vest demonstration on Saturday.
Naomi Clingen, a French and Business Studies student, had planned a sight seeing visit to the city with friend Poppy Scott and had taken the Metro to Jean Jaures in Tolouse when the drama unfolded.
The pair had just got out of the train and were trying to mount the stairs when five tear gas cannisters were thrown onto the Metro.
“At first it was more panic and confusion and then we started to feel and smell the tear gas,” said Naomi, 20.
“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.”
Naomi, a student at Edinburgh University, is currently doing an Erasmus, an initiative for students to study in Europe while completing a degree.
She said: “We were very scared probably one of the most scariest things that has ever happened to me.
“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.”
She and Poppy, also a student at Edinburgh University, waited for around ten minutes before the air cleared and they attempted to get up the steps of the Metro again, to safety.
Naomi added: “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.
“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 who reassured and comforted the pair and told them that everything was going to be allright.
“I’m not sure if they were medics or protestors but some of the ladies were really lovely and helped us to calm down and clean our facesand gave us some spray for our mouths and eye drops,” said Naomi.
“Our eyes and mouths were still stinging for the next few hours after.”
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,” said Naomi. “We could smell and see more tear gas which rose from the the ground but it wasn’t as bad. We could easily go inside to get away from it.” Naomi said it was hours before they were able to safely leave the city. “We don’t know who fired the tear gas in the Metro,” said Naomi. “In all the confusion, you really did not know if it was the police or the protestors. “If it was the police to clear the protestors I don’t really understand why they would put it into the Metro. There was so much confusion it was hard to tell. “I know there were a lot of police but I never saw the police being heavy handed in anyway.” Naomi who has been in France for two months said that she has witnessed other protests. But she added: “On Saturday it was very extreme. The city was a mess the following day with burned out cars, smashed windows etc. and there were still a lot of police about. “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. “For a time we felt very unwell from the gas as our eyes and head were still sore but we were both fine later on that night.” The Yellow Vest protest began last November and sparked a series of protests about the fuel tax increase and high cost of living in France. At the weekend it was the 48th week of the anti government rallies in Toulouse. Some media reports at the weekend reported that police deployed tear gas and water cannon at protesters.