Paris rocked by gas explosion and new wave of protests
Three dead in bakery blast as gilets jaunes numbers increase by thousands
The French capital was rocked yesterday by a ninth weekend of gilets jaunes protests and a huge gas explosion that killed three people and injured at least 46 others, nine of them critically.
The blast, which ripped through a building in the 9th arrondissement, was caused by a “pocket of gas”, investigators said, as they confirmed that two firefighters and a Spanish woman were killed. Another firefighter was trapped under the rubble of the destroyed building for twoand-a-half hours before being rescued by colleagues.
The explosion, which was so powerful it overturned vehicles parked in the street and set them alight, brought added chaos to a city that has borne the brunt of the nationwide gilets jaunes protests held in recent weeks. Yesterday officials said 32,000 demonstrators turned out across the country, several thousand more than last weekend. The gilets jaunes – named after the high-vis yellow vests French motorists must carry in their vehicles – said the number was higher but did not give a figure.
After the violence of previous weeks, the government engaged in a show of strength, deploying 80,000 police officers nationwide – 7,000 of them in Paris. As night fell, security forces used tear gas and water cannon against gilets jaunes at the Arc de Triomphe.
In Bourges, a town of 66,000 people – chosen because of its central location – gilets jaunes gathered despite a ban on protesting in the historic centre.
Police said 75 people were arrested in Paris for carrying weapons and 167 in Bourges. There were also demonstrations in Bordeaux, and gilets jaunes continued to block traffic at roundabouts across the country.
The latest opinion polls show a slight reduction in the high level of public support for the gilets jaunes following last weekend’s violence, and a slight increase in popularity for president Emmanuel Macron whose approval rating remains at 30%. This week the president is to stake his political future on an open letter to the French and a national debate to sound out the public on four themes: taxation, state institutions, democracy and citizenship.
Bruno Cautrès of the elite Sciences Po political research unit CEVIPOF said the gilets jaunes movement was at a “crossroads”.
“We are beginning to see in our research that the question of violence will polarise the movement between those, like members of the France Insoumise [politically far left] and the Rassemblement Nationale [far right], who feel this violence might be justified and others who feel it’s gone too far. Having said that, the level of support for the gilets jaunes remains high.”
Macron will publish an open letter to the French people tomorrow to “explain what I intend to do”. He said the debate was “a vital and very useful moment for our country”.
Cautrès added: “There is a situation of extreme tension and frustration in the country. Our research shows a rejection of politics, politicians and political parties to the point of disgust and distrust. The level of this is really incredible.
“At the moment we don’t know the position Macron will take: will it be, ‘I have heard the people but I’m continuing my reforms’ or ‘I have heard the people and will adapt my programme’? That’s the unknown element.”
Two firefighters and a Spanish woman died in the blast.
More than 40 people were hurt in the massive explosion which destroyed the bakery.