Vi­o­lence sub­sides dur­ing 19th week­end of Yel­low Vest demon­stra­tions in France

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Aure­lien Bree­den

PARIS – French se­cu­rity forces fanned out across Paris and other cities Saturday as the coun­try faced a 19th week­end of Yel­low Vest demon­stra­tions, fol­low­ing a surge of vi­o­lence last week that caught of­fi­cials by sur­prise af­ter months of dwin­dling num­bers and calmer protests.

Though spo­radic clashes erupted late in the day, vi­o­lence dropped Saturday as pro­test­ers marched peace­fully in the French cap­i­tal and else­where.

Nearly 6,000 po­lice of­fi­cers were on the streets of Paris, es­pe­cially around the Champs-El­y­sees and the Arc de Tri­om­phe, which have be­come the fo­cus of protests and where of­fi­cials this past week banned demon­stra­tions.

Christophe Cas­taner, France’s In­te­rior min­is­ter, said Saturday evening that 5,000 peo­ple had demon­strated in the cap­i­tal and 40,500 na­tion­wide. He said that 65,000 po­lice of­fi­cers and gen­darmes had been de­ployed across France, mak­ing 233 ar­rests.

“Our in­struc­tions of firm­ness were fol­lowed and made it pos­si­ble to main­tain or­der and avoid out­bursts,” he said.

Di­dier Lalle­ment, the new chief of the Paris po­lice – his pre­de­ces­sor was fired af­ter last week­end’s vi­o­lence – said Saturday that po­lice took more proac­tive steps to “im­me­di­ately put a stop to vi­o­lence or de­struc­tion.”

In Paris, the po­lice sta­tioned dozens of vans, wa­ter can­nons and ar­mored ve­hi­cles on the Champs-El­y­sees, and few pro­test­ers chal­lenged them. In­stead, most of the Yel­low Vests marched on a preap­proved route from south­ern Paris up to the Sacre-Coeur cathe­dral. The Yel­low Vest demon­stra­tions, set off in Novem­ber by an in­crease in fuel taxes, are named af­ter the high-vis­i­bil­ity safety vests that all French driv­ers must have in their cars.

Anger about the fuel tax in­crease – which was sus­pended – snow­balled into an ex­pres­sion of much broader dis­con­tent against Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, his pro-busi­ness eco­nomic poli­cies, his sweep­ing re­form agenda and what crit­ics call his abra­sive style of gov­ern­ing. De­mands in­clude higher tax­a­tion for the rich, more mea­sures to sup­port the pur­chas­ing power of the lower-mid­dle class, and the cre­ation of a pop­u­lar ref­er­en­dum mech­a­nism.

But af­ter months of rit­ual gath­er­ings ev­ery Saturday in Paris and other cities, some­times with clashes be­tween riot po­lice and Yel­low Vests or more rad­i­cal ag­i­ta­tors, the num­ber of pro­test­ers has dwin­dled to a small frac­tion of the more than 250,000 who demon­strated across the coun­try in the move­ment’s early days.

Last week­end, shop­keep­ers on the Champs-El­y­sees who had grown ac­cus­tomed to shut­ting their stores and board­ing them up had let their guard down and opened up as usual. But in a burst of vi­o­lence, pro­test­ers smashed win­dows, looted stores and set a bank on fire, putting Macron’s govern­ment un­der re­newed pres­sure to step up se­cu­rity.

French Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe said Mon­day that author­i­ties would ban protests in “ar­eas that have been most tar­geted” if they be­came aware of “ex­trem­ist el­e­ments” that in­tended to van­dal­ize them, and that fines for at­tend­ing banned demon­stra­tions would in­crease. Most con­tro­ver­sially, the govern­ment said that po­lice forces would be sup­ported by the mil­i­tary to help se­cure cities where protests were planned.

Getty Im­ages

Yel­low Vest pro­test­ers chant against Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and his govern­ment in front of Sacre-Coeur cathe­dral Saturday in Paris, France.

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