Po­lice in Paris again clash with ‘yel­low vest’ pro­test­ers

Eif­fel Tower closed as pre­cau­tion, shops boarded up


PARIS (Reuters) – French riot po­lice clashed with “yel­low vest” pro­test­ers in cen­tral Paris on Satur­day dur­ing the lat­est wave of demon­stra­tions against high liv­ing costs which have shaken Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s au­thor­ity.

Pro­test­ers played a cat-and­mouse game with riot po­lice, mov­ing from the heav­ily guarded Champs Élysées area to other parts of the city, set­ting cars, garbage bins and wooden shut­ters on fire. More than 30 peo­ple were in­jured.

Au­thor­i­ties said some 8,000 peo­ple were demon­strat­ing in Paris, where 600 peo­ple had been searched and briefly ar­rested. More than 500 of them re­mained in cus­tody af­ter po­lice found they car­ried po­ten­tial weapons such as ham­mers, base­ball bats and metal balls used in the French lawn game petanque.

Some 31,000 peo­ple were demon­strat­ing across France.

Po­lice fired tear gas, used wa­ter can­non and horses to charge at pro­test­ers, but there was less vi­o­lence than last week, when ri­ot­ers torched 112 cars and looted shops in the worst ri­ot­ing in Paris since May 1968.

“We were on our knees and they shot tear gas at us. I am telling you, things are go­ing to blow up tonight,” said Yanis Areg, 21, from Paris sub­urb Mont­fer­meil.

A po­lice source told Reuters he feared that things would get out of hand af­ter night­fall.

Large groups of peo­ple were head­ing to east­ern Paris, where a march against cli­mate change was un­der way. Armed po­lice ve­hi­cles were seen break­ing up makeshift bar­ri­cades in the up­mar­ket shop­ping dis­trict around Boule­vard Hauss­mann, where su­per­mar­kets were looted and sev­eral cars were set on fire.

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe ap­pealed for re­straint.

“We will do all we can so that to­day can be a day without vi­o­lence, so that the di­a­log that we started this week can con­tinue in the best pos­si­ble cir­cum­stances,” he said on French tele­vi­sion.

On Tues­day, Philippe an­nounced the gov­ern­ment would sus­pend planned fuel tax in­creases for at least six months to help defuse weeks of protests, mark­ing the first U-turn by Macron’s gov­ern­ment since he came to power 18 months ago. ‘TROU­BLE­MAK­ERS’ About 89,000 po­lice were de­ployed across France on Satur­day, some 8,000 of them in Paris.

“We have pre­pared a ro­bust re­sponse,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Christophe Cas­taner told on­line news site Brut. He called on peace­ful pro­test­ers not to get mixed up with “hooli­gans.”

“The trou­ble­mak­ers can only be ef­fec­tive when they dis­guise them­selves as yel­low vests. Vi­o­lence is never a good way to get what you want. Now is the time for dis­cus­sion,” he said.

“We have come here for a peace­ful march, not to smash things. We want equal­ity, we want to live, not sur­vive,” said Guil­laume Le Grac, 28, who works in a slaugh­ter­house in the town of Guingamp in Brit­tany.

Pro­test­ers, us­ing so­cial me­dia, have billed the week­end as “Act IV” in a dra­matic chal­lenge to Macron and his poli­cies.

Small groups of riot po­lice moved quickly among pro­test­ers and clamped down on any­one try­ing to dam­age shops or pub­lic ameni­ties.

Much of Paris looked like a ghost town, with mu­se­ums and depart­ment stores closed on what should have been a fes­tive pre-Christ­mas shop­ping day.

Many shops were boarded up to avoid loot­ing and street fur­ni­ture and con­struc­tion site ma­te­ri­als have been re­moved to pre­vent them from be­ing used as pro­jec­tiles.

Tourists were scarce and res­i­dents were ad­vised to stay at home if pos­si­ble. Dozens of streets were closed to traf­fic, while the Eif­fel Tower and mu­se­ums such as the Lou­vre, Musée d’Or­say and the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou were shut.

“Tourists are a bit dis­ori­ented – no sub­way, no shop­ping, no mu­se­ums... But they seem to take it in their stride,” said ho­tel re­cep­tion­ist Pas­cal, who de­clined to give his sur­name.

The protests, named af­ter the high-vis­i­bil­ity safety vests French mo­torists are re­quired to keep in their cars, erupted in Novem­ber over the squeeze on house­hold bud­gets caused by fuel taxes.

Demon­stra­tions have since swelled into a broad, some­times vi­o­lent re­bel­lion against Macron, a chal­lenge made more dif­fi­cult to han­dle since the move­ment has no for­mal leader.

Au­thor­i­ties say the protests have been hi­jacked by far-right and an­ar­chist el­e­ments bent on vi­o­lence and stir­ring up so­cial un­rest.

De­spite the gov­ern­ment’s climb­down over the fuel tax, the ‘yel­low vests’ con­tinue to de­mand more con­ces­sions, in­clud­ing lower taxes, a higher min­i­mum wage, lower en­ergy costs, bet­ter re­tire­ment ben­e­fits and even Macron’s res­ig­na­tion.

(Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

A PRO­TESTER WAVES a French flag dur­ing clashes with Paris po­lice yes­ter­day at a demon­stra­tion by the ‘yel­low vests’ move­ment.

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