ANOTHER WEEKEND OF ‘YELLOW VEST’ PROTESTS SHAKES FRANCE
The number of protesters in the latest ‘yellow vest’ rallies across France surged Saturday, which saw a marked decline in violence despite hundreds of arrests and clashes with police in Paris and other cities
VARIOUS cities in France faced a fresh round of “yellow vest” protests over the weekend, during which thousands of protesters marched to denounce President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies. Scuffles between police and activists broke out, as French police used tear gas and water cannon to push back some protesters and more than 100 people were arrested.
than 84,000 people turned out for the ninth round of demonstrations against French President Emmanuel Macron since November, the country’s 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 Dec. 15, it was still below the nearly 300,000 when the rallies began two months ago.
While violence remains on the scene of protests, 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, only 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.
Press freedom in France has taken on
new meaning after the notorious 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks against the journalists of the satirical magazine.
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 Agence France-Presse (AFP).
However 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.
Dozens were arrested in the central city of Bourges, the site of another major rally aimed at drawing people farther from the capital.
“I get by on 1,200 euros ($1,380) a month, and taxes eat away at my savings every day. They’re taking away everything we have,” said “Vercingetorix,” a 74-yearold retired archaeologist dressed as the legendary Gallic resister to Roman rule.
“We want parliament dissolved. Macron has to stop ignoring us and realize how bad things are,” said William Lebrethon, a 59-year-old construction worker amid signs saying “Macron resign!” and “France is angry.”
A few hundred protesters later burned trash cans amid cat-and-mouse clashes with police in Bourges’ historic center, and skirmishes also broke out in Nimes, Nantes, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and other cities.
The demonstrations also spilled over the border into eastern Belgium late on Friday, where one of around 25 protesters manning a blockade died after being hit by a truck, Belgian media reported.
The man suspected of driving the truck remains on the run. He was identified on Saturday after his license plate was traced back to a Dutch company, local prosecutors said, adding that a European arrest warrant would be issued.
Yellow vests have made appearances all over Western Europe and have become an unofficial symbol of anti-establishmentarianism.
The “yellow vest” movement, which began as protests over high fuel taxes, has snowballed into a wholesale rejection of Macron and his policies, which are seen as favoring the wealthy at the expense of rural and small-town France. The protesters do not share common politics and appear to hail from left, right and center, ideologically speaking.
Protestors wearing yellow vests clash with police officers on the Place du Capitole in Toulouse, southern France, Jan. 12.
Yellow vest protesters stand near tear gas during clashes with police at an anti-government demonstration in Le Mans, Jan. 12, 2019.