Number of “Yellow Vest” Protesters Surges
PARIS (AFP) - The number of protesters in the latest “yellow vest” rallies across France surged on Saturday, but there was a marked decline in violence despite hundreds of arrests and clashes with police in Paris and other cities.
More than 84,000 people turned out for the ninth round of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron since November, the interior ministry said, up from 50,000 the previous Saturday.
Attendance had declined over the Christmas holiday break, and while Saturday’s turnout was higher than the 66,000 protesters on December 15, it was still far below the nearly 300,000 when the rallies began two months ago.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that “responsibility triumphed over the temptation of confrontation” in Paris, where 8,000 protesters marched “without serious incident”, up from 3,500 last week.
He also hailed the 80,000 officers deployed nationwide, including 5,000 in the capital.
However several journalists were assaulted at rallies in several cities, as well as a security officer accompanying LCI television reporters who was surrounded and beaten by marchers, some wearing yellow vests, in the northern city of Rouen.
“In our democracy, the press is free. In our Republic, the freedom to inform is unalienable. Assaulting journalists is an attack on both,” Castaner tweeted.
For the first time organizers of the Paris march deployed teams wearing white arm bands to corral the march that began near the Place de la Bastille.
“We’re guiding the march to make sure they keep to the route and avoid confrontations, so they don’t respond to police provocations,” one of the “white bands,” who gave his name as Anthony, told AFP.
But scores of protesters later clashed with riot police at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, prompting volleys of tear gas and water cannon as security forces prevented them from reaching the heavily fortified Champs-Elysees.
The protesters began to disperse as night fell, however, and police began removing armored vehicles and trucks in an atmosphere of relative calm -- TV images later showed a guitarist crooning not far from the police lines.
Police detained 244 protesters nationwide, 201 of which were taken into police custody, the interior ministry said.