French Protesters, Police Clash On ‘Yellow Vest’ Anniversary

Protesters hold a banner reading “It’s only the beginning” as they attend during a demonstration marking the first anniversary of the “yellow vest” (gilets jaunes) movement on November 16, 2019, in Nantes, western France. French police detained dozens in Paris on November 16 as fierce clashes broke out in demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the yellow vest protest movement challenging President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.
LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

French police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse stone-throwing “yellow vest” protesters in Paris Saturday, on the first anniversary of the movement challenging President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.

Clashes broke out in other French cities as activists rallied to prove their movement is still a force a year after the first giant protest on November 17, 2018, which drew 282,000 people.

Numbers attending the protests and levels of violence have sharply diminished from the height of the movement, which began on the back of frustration Macron was failing to address the needs of ordinary French people.

But Saturday’s protests — which demonstrators called “Act 53” of their weekly gatherings — marked the first serious clashes for months in central Paris between security forces and demonstrators.

The interior ministry put the number of demonstrators at 28,600 nationwide but the organisers said nearly 40,000 people had rallied.

Tensions focused on the Place d’Italie square in southeast Paris. Police in full riot gear flooded the area in tear gas and used water cannons after demonstrators threw stones, set rubbish bins alight, overturned cars and set them ablaze, AFP correspondents said.

A major shopping centre in the area closed its doors after dozens of protesters threw stones at the windows of a neighbouring hotel. Several demonstrators and a freelance journalist were injured.

Police arrested 147 people across Paris by 8:00 pm (1900 GMT), of whom 129 were in custody.

Earlier in the afternoon, Paris police chief Didier Lallement had banned the Place d’Italie demonstration, condemning the “damage and the systematic attacks against the security forces and the fire brigade”.

“It’s pathetic that the demonstration was banned,” said Catherine Van Puymbroeck, 49. “The state has provoked this anger.”

Police also fired tear gas in the Les Halles area, near the famed Pompidou Centre museum, to break up demonstrations.

‘Happy Birthday’

The yellow vests want the actions on Saturday — their usual day of protest — and also Sunday, the anniversary day, to remind Macron they have not vanished from the scene.

“We’re here even if Macron doesn’t like it,” demonstrators chanted as they arrived on the outskirts of Paris Saturday, with others singing “Happy Birthday”.

Police were deployed in numbers, especially along the Champs-Elysees, which was again closed off to demonstrators following the ransacking of shops that followed a protest last March.

France has a long tradition of violent protest, but the ferocity of last winter’s demonstrations and allegations of police brutality shocked the country.

A poll by the Elabe institute published Wednesday said 55 percent of French people support or have sympathy for the yellow vests, although 63 percent said they do not want the protests to begin in earnest again.

The most prominent figures in the movement, which has explicitly shunned any formal leadership structure, acknowledge the declining numbers but say the authorities’ response has not been sufficient.

“We shouldn’t still need to be on the street one year on,” said Priscillia Ludosky, an entrepreneur whose online petition against high fuel prices helped kick off the movement, told the Regards news site.

‘End of public services’

The yellow vests — named for the glow-in-the-dark waistcoats all French drivers must carry in their cars — posed the biggest challenge to Macron since he came to power in 2017 on the back of promises of sweeping change.

Initially taken aback by the size and intensity of the movement, Macron offered billions of euros in state aid and tax breaks — and scrapped a planned fuel tax hike — while embarking on a “Great National Debate” at town halls nationwide.

He has also tried to soften his sometimes abrasive style. Just weeks before the protests erupted, Macron told a 25-year-old man looking for a job in Paris that “if I crossed the street I’d find you one”.

There were fewer reports of violence and large-scale protests outside Paris, but there were clashes at Bordeaux and Toulouse in the southwest, Nantes in the west and Lyon in the east.

“If the movement disappears, I worry that society will dehumanise and that would be the end of public services and the reign of money, the king,” said Vanessa, a protester 47, in Nantes.

The next major street challenge to Macron, however, may not come from this weekend’s protests but a strike called by unions on December 5 to rally against his planned pension reforms.

Over 100 Arrested In France ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests

French policemen arrest a man during an anti-government demonstration called by the “yellow vest” (gilets jaunes) movement, on September 21, 2019 in Paris.  Lucas BARIOULET / AFP

 

Over a hundred demonstrators were arrested at yellow vest protests in Paris on Saturday as about 7,500 police were deployed to quell any violence by the movement and its radical, anarchist “black blocs”.

There were also fears that the demonstrators could try to infiltrate a march against climate change in the French capital.

The yellow vest movement erupted 10 months ago and blindsided President Emmanuel Macron, whom protesters accused of being out of touch with the needs of ordinary French people.

“What are we doing? We are assembling just to say that we can’t make ends meet. (The protest) is not only against the president, it’s against the system,” said a woman protestor who did not give her name.

The weekly demonstrations — Saturday was the 45th — prompted Macron to loosen the state’s purse strings to the tune of nearly 17 billion euros ($18.8 billion) in wage boosts and tax cuts for low earners, but tapered off over the summer.

However, it remains to be seen whether the movement will regain the momentum of the winter and early spring, when the protests often descended into violent clashes with security forces, especially in Paris.

By 1.00 pm (11 GMT) police had arrested 106 demonstrators, police headquarters said, adding that some had been found to carry hammers or petrol canisters.

“We are being treated like criminals,” said a woman, who identified herself as Brigitte.

The authorities had banned demonstrations in some areas of the city, including tourism hotspot Champs-Elysees, but some protesters violated the ban, leading to a tense standoff with police who used teargas and batons to scatter them.

Macron on Friday called for “calm”, saying that while “it’s good that people express themselves”, they should not disrupt a climate protest and cultural events also due to go ahead on Saturday.

The number of police deployed for Saturday’s rallies are on a par with the peak of the yellow vest protests in December and March.

– ‘Black blocs’ –

Key yellow-vest figure Jerome Rodrigues has billed Saturday’s protest as “a revelatory demonstration”, claiming “many people are going to come to Paris”.

But officials have again outlawed protests on the Champs-Elysees and other areas in the heart of the capital, where previously protesters had ransacked and set fire to luxury shops and restaurants.

Some demonstrators in January even used a forklift truck to break down the doors of a government ministry.

The police have also been criticised for being heavy-handed in clashes with hardcore anti-capitalist “black bloc” groups blamed for much of the violence that has accompanied the demonstrations.

Saturday coincides with the annual European Heritage Days weekend, when public and private buildings normally off-limits to the public are open to visitors.

After attracting 282,000 people nationwide on the first day of protests last November, yellow-vest protest participation had fallen sharply by the spring, and only sporadic protests were seen over the summer.

Macron said in an interview with Time magazine published Thursday that the movement had been “very good for me” as it had made him listen and communicate better.

“My challenge is to listen to people much better than I did at the very beginning,” the president said.

burs/jh/ach

Yellow Vest Crisis ‘Very Good For Me’, Says Macron

Protesters listen to Jerome Rodrigues (L), one of the leading figures of the ‘Yellow Vest’ (gilet jaune) movement, as they take part in an anti-government demonstration, on April 20, 2019 in Paris. / AFP

 

President Emmanuel Macron has said he believes the yellow vest protests that rocked France since last year have been good for him as they made him listen and communicate better, in an interview published on Thursday.

The yellow vest (gilets jaunes) protests, which often descended into violent clashes with the police, erupted last November, with demonstrators accusing Macron of being aloof and unaware of the needs of ordinary French people.

Now over two years into his five-year term, Macron is hoping in the next phase of his term to focus on his ambitious vision for reforming not just France but also the EU.

“In a certain way, the gilets jaunes were very good for me,” Macron told Time magazine in an interview for a front-page cover story. “Because it reminded me who I should be.”

He acknowledged that the protests had made him aware that he needed to be less disconnected.

“My challenge is to listen to people much better than I did at the very beginning,” he said, for the story entitled “Macron’s Moment”.

“I probably provided the feeling that I wanted to reform even against people.

“And sometimes my impatience was felt as an impatience (with) the French people. That is not the case,” he said, adding that his impatience was with France’s system itself.

“Now, I think I need to take more time to explain where we are and what we want to do exactly.”

Analysts say that for now, Macron appears to have seen off the worst of the yellow vest protests, which are still taking place every weekend but on nothing like the scale of six months ago.

But he has to keep an eye on his own popularity and France’s powerful unions as he seeks to implement reforms at home. The Paris metro last Friday saw its worst strike in years over a planned pension overhaul.

He has also taken an active role on the international stage, though his drives to defuse the Iran nuclear dispute and also bring peace to Ukraine could yet be derailed.

Time quoted Macron as saying he was currently in a “Death Valley” period between setting out his reforms and seeing them bearing fruit.

“The end of Death Valley is the day you have results,” he said. “Building this new France is my obsession.”

AFP

‘Yellow Vest’ Protesters, Police Clash In Renewed Demonstration Across France

Protesters face French anti-riot police officers during an anti-government demonstration called by the “Yellow Vests” (Gilets Jaunes) movement on September 7, 2019 in Montpellier, southern France. Pascal GUYOT / AFP

 

French police clashed Saturday  with anti-government protesters seeking to inject fresh momentum into demonstrations calling for social justice and the ouster of President Emmanuel Macron.

The so-called “yellow vest” movement had tapered off over the summer, but its leaders hope to galvanise support for a fresh wave of rallies across the country as the government begins a reform of France’s retirement system.

Officials in the southern city of Montpellier said around 2,000 people gathered in the city centre — organisers put their numbers at closer to 5,000.

During clashes between police and protesters, officers fired tear gas to try to disperse the crowd and a firebomb wrecked an unoccupied police car. Several storefronts were vandalised and police said seven people had been detained.

The region’s officials blamed what it said were around 500 members of the hard-core Black Bloc for the violence.

Organisers of the protests had called for a major demonstration Montpellier, long a stronghold of the movement.

But smaller rallies took place in other cities around France, including Paris, Marseille, Rouen, Lille, Strasbourg, Dijon and Toulouse.

There were clashes in the northern city of Rouen, where around 500 demonstrators turned out, including members of the CGT trades union. Police arrested 26 people and cautioned 111. Shop windows and some in the city’s court were smashed.

Police said 650 people turned out in the northern city of Lille — organisers put the figure at 1,500 — in a march that passed off peacefully.

“We’re all together, we want the government to drastically change its policies… and radical change can only come when this government resigns,” said Alexandre Chantry, a yellow vest organiser in Lille.

Police said around 800 people demonstrated in Paris, where the authorities have maintained a ban on protests at the Champs-Elysees, scene of major clashes and extensive destruction during past protests.

Officers said they arrested 89 people in the capital.

The yellow vest movement began last November, triggered by anger over a fuel tax increase.

It quickly evolved into a broader movement against Macron, accused of ignoring the day-to-day struggles of low-income earners in small-town and rural France.

The protests rocked Macron’s presidency, and he eventually unveiled nearly 17 billion euros ($18.8 billion) in wage boosts and tax cuts for low earners to quell the protests.

He vowed to better address voters’ grievances after months of town-hall debates.

But after attracting 282,000 people nationwide at the first day of protest on November 17, their numbers have fallen sharply by last spring, and only sporadic protests were seen over the summer.

bur-jj/pvh

Police Arrest ‘Yellow Vest’ Demonstrators As Protests Resume

Protesters listen to Jerome Rodrigues (L), one of the leading figures of the ‘Yellow Vest’ (gilet jaune) movement, as they take part in an anti-government demonstration, on April 20, 2019 in Paris. / AFP

 

French police said they arrested more than 100 “yellow vest” demonstrators on Saturday in Paris as thousands of protestors took to the streets for the 23rd week of anti-government marches.

AFP journalists reported scuffles between police and protesters in the afternoon, after hours of calm, as police used anti-riot grenades and tear gas to disperse marchers in the centre of the French capital.

Police headquarters reported 126 arrests and 11,000 checks on individual protesters.

READ ALSO: Climate Demonstrators Block London Roads

Paris seemed to bear the brunt of Saturday’s protests, but other French cities were also expecting demonstrations.

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron signed into law legislation that gave security forces greater powers at demonstrations but which opponents claimed violated civil liberties.

One measure banned protestors from covering their faces, but France’s Constitutional Council, its highest constitutional authority, refused to give its green light to one of the most contentious parts of the legislation.

It would also have given the authorities the power to ban from demonstrations any individual “posing a particularly serious threat to public order”.

The “yellow vest” movement is demanding changes to the government’s social and fiscal policies.

Macron To Set Out Fix For ‘Yellow Vest’ Anger

Macron Signs Controversial French 'Anti-Rioters' Bill Into Law
France’s President Emmanuel Macron  / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron was to set out a series of major policy announcements Monday in response to five months of nationwide “yellow vest” protests, in what has been billed as a make-or-break moment for his presidency.

Yet the task of trying to satisfy the many, sometimes competing demands coiled up in the protests will be a tricky one for the 41-year-old leader, who was elected two years ago on promises of sweeping changes.

His reform drive was abruptly knocked off course by the yellow vests, whose movement erupted in November against social inequality.

Macron responded by embarking on a major voter-listening exercise between January and March called the “Great National Debate”, in which grievances were aired during thousands of town hall-style meetings.

READ ALSO: Sudan Protesters Present Demands To Military Rulers

“We have decided to transform the anger into solutions,” Macron wrote on Twitter. “For several months you told us what you think and we heard… (Monday) night I will respond to you.”

The centrist will give a speech at 1800 GMT Monday setting out the “first concrete measures”, the presidency told AFP.

One of Macron’s aides told AFP that the country could look forward to “a new act” marked by “profound changes” aimed at drawing the line under the enduring and often violent anti-government protests.

Summing up the weight of anticipation on Macron’s shoulders Senate leader Gerard Larcher, a member of the opposition Republicans, told Le Figaro newspaper on Saturday: “He won’t get a second chance.”

French media said the content of the speech of Macron could determine whether he wins re-election in 2022.

“It’s double or quits for Macron,” Le Journal du Dimanche weekly newspaper wrote Sunday.

“Macron’s five years is at stake,” said Le Figaro Monday, adding that the head of state has “no room for error”.

Left-leaning Liberation said Macron had to decide whether to side with conservative supporters or placate those wanting a softer approach.

– ‘Lower taxes’ –
In one of the most important weeks of the president’s career, he is also due to hold a press conference at the Elysee on Wednesday in an unusual move for a man who has kept his distance from the French media. What Macron intends to announce has been kept under wraps.

He has much work to do if he is to convince French citizens outside of his hardcore support base that he really cares about them.

According to an Ifop poll published on Sunday, 85 percent of French think that Macron should pay greater attention to their concerns.

One option Macron is examining is to curb the privileges enjoyed by senior civil servants and former presidents. Another is push ahead with plans to reduce the number of national lawmakers.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who met Macron on Sunday, said last week that the clear message from the nationwide debates was that the French wanted lower taxes.

“We need to lower taxes, and lower them more quickly,” Philippe.

The yellow vest movement, named after the fluorescent safety jackets worn by demonstrators, began in rural and small-town France over fuel taxes and quickly snowballed into a broader anti-capitalist, anti-establishment rebellion.

Macron, a former investment banker and ex-economy minister, was caught off guard when protesters began occupying roundabouts to denounce policies widely seen as tilted towards the rich and big business.

Admitting to failures, he unveiled a 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) package of tax cuts and income top-ups for the working poor and pensioners and travelled into the rural heartland to try to reconnect with voters.

But most yellow vests boycotted the consultations. They accused Macron of prejudging the outcome by taking their top demands — including the return of a popular “solidarity tax” on the rich which he cut and citizen-sponsored referendums — off the table from the outset.

French ‘Yellow Vests’ Stage 20th Day Of Protests

“Yellow vest” (gilets jaunes) anti-government demonstrators protest along the main street in the western French city of Bordeaux. MEHDI FEDOUACH / AFP

 

French “yellow vests” demonstrators on Saturday staged their 20th week of anti-government protests despite bans in hotspot areas, as banks called for an end to violence against branches, cash machines and personnel.

Police had struggled the previous weekend to contain violence by highly-organised demonstrators who smashed shop windows and set fire to newspaper kiosks and a bank in the capital.

Local authorities on Saturday declared iconic sites such as the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris and the centre of Bordeaux, in southwestern France, off-limits to demonstrations.

READ ALSO: Pope Francis In Morocco, Stresses Need To Oppose ‘Fanaticism’

The presidential Elysee Palace and the National Assembly were also cordoned off by police.

President Emmanuel Macron has reacted to the Saturday protests, which began last November, by embarking on a cross-country tour as part of a “Great National Debate” aimed at encouraging disgruntled citizens to express themselves through structured dialogue.

The protests began in rural France on November 17 over fuel tax increases and quickly ballooned into a full-scale anti-government rebellion.

In recent weeks, the protesters’ numbers have dwindled but those still on the streets appear more determined.

Initial reports at midday Saturday said that around 300 demonstrators had gathered at the Paris Gare de l’Est train station and the Paris Prefecture said two demonstrations and four gatherings had been organised, with one march to end near the Eiffel Tower.

“It is still the same goal, social justice and the RIC (citizen-initiated referendum), especially when there are economic choices to be made,” said a 43-year-old demonstrator who gave his first name as Jean-Edouard.

 ‘Unbridled and unjustified violence’ 

The French banking federation called for an end to attacks during “yellow vest” protests, saying that more than 760 banks have suffered damage since the movement began last year.

Banks have often been the targets of vandalism and arson during the protests, and last week 11 people were injured when a Banque Tarneaud branch was set on fire near the Champs Elysees.

“We must quickly put a stop to this unbridled and unjustified violence,” the federation said in comments published in the daily Le Monde.

With the Paris authorities clamping down, regional protests came into focus, with protests bans in other city centres, including Avignon, Lille and Toulouse.

Lille officials offered demonstrators an alternative path, however.

People who take part in unauthorised demonstrations risk an increased fine of 135 euros ($150).

In Bordeaux, where violent clashes have broken during previous protests, Mayor Nicolas Florian shut down the city after authorities warned of the possible arrival of “hundreds of thugs”.

Residents were urged to stay indoors to avoid unintended clashes with police.

A demonstration was planned in the Mediterranean city of Nice, where a 73-year-old activist was injured last week after she was pushed by police and hit her head while falling.

Police had initially insisted that no officer pushed the woman, but rectified that position following an internal investigation.

Last Saturday, 40,500 people demonstrated across France according to police while “yellow vest” sources put the figure at more than 127,000.

Last week, Macron continued to meet with mayors as part of regional tours linked to the national debate.

He is scheduled to end the tour Thursday on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

AFP

France Probes Injury Of 73-Year-Old Yellow Vest Protester

French police rush towards Genevieve Legay, an Attac activtist, who collapsed on the ground in Garibaldi Square during a rally by the anti-government “Yellow Vests” (Gilets jaunes) movement in the city of Nice, southeastern France, on March 23, 2019.  Valery HACHE / AFP

 

French officials faced fresh questions Sunday about the handling of the “yellow vest” protests after an elderly activist was seriously injured during a police charge in the southern city of Nice.

Prosecutors there have opened an inquiry to try to establish what happened Saturday when 73-year-old Genevieve Legay suffered head injuries.

When paramedics evacuated veteran activist Legay from the demonstration she was bleeding from the head, but still conscious, AFP journalists at the scene noted.

Her daughter later said that she had suffered several fractures to the skull and subdural haematomas.

READ ALSO: Thousands Mark Three Months Of France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests

Arie Alimi, the family’s lawyer, told AFP that they would be filing a formal complaint against the authorities for violence against “a vulnerable person”. The region’s governor would be named in the lawsuit, to be submitted on Monday.

“The police charge was very violent,” he said. “Mrs Legay … has been very badly injured.” But contrary to some reports, she was in a stable condition and not in a coma, he added.

Photos and video footage from Saturday’s protest showed her carrying a rainbow-coloured flag with the word “peace” written on it.

Legay is an activist with the social justice campaign group Attac. The group published a message on its website calling for an inquiry to establish who was responsible for her injuries.

 Demos restricted  

In an interview with Nice-Matin published Monday, President Emmanuel Macron wished her “a speedy recovery, and perhaps some form of wisdom”.

“When you are frail and may be pushed around, you do not go to places that are defined as prohibited and do not put yourself in situations like this,” he said.

Both local prosecutors and France’s justice minister Sunday pointed out that protests in some parts of the city center had been banned.

The minister. Nicole Belloubet, was asked about the incident in an interview with French channel BFMTV.

While wishing Legay a speedy recovery, she said, “I do find it curious all the same that when a demonstration had been banned, as was the case in Nice, someone goes with the declared intention of demonstrating in that place there.”

“There were some areas, in some cities, where demonstrations were banned. Following warnings, a person who stays there is likely to commit a crime and it is in this context that the events happened.”

Nice prosecutor Jean-Michel Pretre said they were doing everything they could to find out what happened.

“When you stay in a protest after the regulatory (police) warning that people have to disperse, it’s a crime.”

In Legay’s case, however, it was not clear whether she had been in the banned area, or on the edge of it when police moved against the protesters.

Demonstrations this weekend were also banned in certain parts of Paris and in the centers of Toulouse, Bordeaux, Dijon, and Rennes.

 2,000 convictions 

French courts so far have convicted around 2,000 “yellow vest” protesters of offences since the marches began last November, Belloubet told BFMTV.

“Of the 2,000 convictions that have already taken place, the figure that should be retained is that 40 percent are prison sentences,” she said. They ranged from one month to three years, according to justice ministry figures.

The other 60 percent of convictions involved community service, suspended sentences or other non-custodial sentences, the minister added.

Nearly 1,800 cases arising from the protests, in Paris and other French cities every Saturday since November 17, were still to be resolved and a total of 8,700 people had been detained, she said.

More than 40,000 people took to the streets across France on Saturday for the 19th consecutive week of anti-government protests, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.

The government redeployed soldiers from its Sentinelle anti-terror force to guard public buildings in Paris, freeing up 6,000 police in Paris to tackle any flare-ups of violence.

AFP

Thousands Mark Three Months Of France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests

“Yellow vest” (gilets jaunes) anti-government demonstrators protest along the main street in the western French city of Bordeaux on December 29, 2018. 
MEHDI FEDOUACH / AFP

 

Thousands of “yellow vest” protesters marched across France Saturday, three months since the movement began and in a week that has seen growing international concern at police treatment of the protesters.

Demonstrating for the 14th consecutive weekend, just over 41,000 people turned out across the country, according to the government, well down on the 282,000 peak during the protests’ early weeks.

An interior ministry statement said 41,500 people had demonstrated nationwide, 5,000 of them in Paris. Organisers of the marches, however, put the numbers far higher.

“We are 15,000, that means the movement is increasing,” Jerome Rodrigues, one of the movement’s better known figures, told AFP at the Paris march.

Rodrigues, along with three other people, is suing the police after being struck in the eye by a projectile he says was fired from a police riot control weapon.

On Thursday, deputies in the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the disproportionate use of force against protesters, after a debate on the use by French police of the controversial weapons.

The same day, a group of UN experts condemned what they said was the disproportionate use of force by police in response to violent demonstrators.

– Slipping in the polls –
Demonstrators marched down the Champs-Elysees and crossed the river Seine to Paris’s up-market Left Bank district, marching peacefully but shouting anti-police slogans.

“We’ve done nearly all the demos,” Marion, a nurse from the Paris region, told AFP.

She dismissed as a distraction French President Emmanuel Macron’s “great national debate” a series of town hall meetings he launched in January to try to address the grievances of the yellow vest movement.

“We don’t believe in it, we won’t take part in it,” she said.

But a poll of 1,001 people published by Elabe on Wednesday suggested for the first time that most people (56 percent) would like the protests to end, even if a majority (58 percent) still support what the movement stands for.

And while the movement’s organisers reject the official figures on turnout, the numbers are certainly down on the initial protests. Starting at 282,000 according to government estimates, they stayed higher than 100,000 for four consecutive weeks.

– Back to the roundabouts –
This weekend, demonstrators returned to a tactic adopted in the early weeks of the protests, occupying key roundabouts control the traffic.

Officials in the east of the country responded with a statement warning that they would not tolerate any road blocks or filtering of traffic, as has happened in the past.

Some demonstrators adopted the same tactics in the southwest.

But 58-year-old Joelle, who with around 30 other people occupied a roundabout on the outskirts of Toulouse, explained: “We came back to the roundabouts to avoid the violence that’s happened up there (in the city centre.”

Toulouse, which has seen some of the largest protests outside the capital, has also been the scene of clashes between police and protesters.

Thousands marched there again Saturday, an AFP journalist witnessed, and there was a strong turnout in the southwest city of Bordeaux, another stronghold of the movement.

What started out three months ago as a protest against rising fuel taxes quickly evolved into a wider opposition to Macron’s style of government and policies.

Macron, under pressure from the movement reversed the fuel tax rises in December.

But he has not bowed to another of their key demands: that he reinstate a wealth tax he repealed to encourage the rich to stay in France and invest in the country.

France To Mark Three Months Of ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests

Women march with balloons during a rally of the Women’s Yellow Vest protest movement (Femmes Gilets jaunes) near Place de la Bastille in Paris on January 6, 2019. Bertrand GUAY / AFP

 

Demonstrators are to hit French city streets again Saturday, marking three months of “yellow vest” protests as a poll now suggests that most of the country wants them to stop.

The number of those attending the weekly rallies has dropped since 287,000 turned out on November 17, the first Saturday of protest.

And for the first time, a poll found Wednesday that more than half those questioned felt it was time to end the protests.

On February 9, the 13th weekend of anti-government actions, 51,000 people took to the streets according to police, though protest organisers put the figure at 118,000.

Violence has marred nearly every large-scale rally.

READ ALSO: French ‘Yellow Vest’ Boxer Faces Trial For Assaulting Police

In Paris, where 4,000 gathered last week, clashes broke out outside the National Assembly building where one demonstrator lost a hand, reportedly as he tried to bat away a stun grenade.

Masked activists tried to break down barriers protecting the parliament but were repelled by police firing tear gas and grenades.

As the march continued, vandals burned rubbish bins and cars and smashed bus shelters, cash machines and shop windows along the route.

One of the torched vehicles belonged to Sentinelle, an anti-terrorism unit. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner expressed his “indignation and disgust” in a tweet.

Some 550 shops have been damaged by protesters in the capital since mid-November.

Thousands of protesters also turned out in the southern cities of Marseille, Montpellier, Bordeaux and Toulouse — strongholds of the movement — as well as several cities in the north and west of France.

The “yellow vest” movement started as a protest against rising fuel taxes, but it has become one of the opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.

Speaking at a meeting with local mayors on Thursday, Macron said it was time for a “return to reason”, adding that authorities would act with “greater firmness” against violent demonstrators.

The interior ministry said 1,796 people have been sentenced for rioting or other acts of violence over the past three months, while 1,422 more are awaiting trial.

Ex-boxer Christophe Dettinger who became a hero to some protesters after beating up police officers during a demonstration in January was convicted Wednesday and given a one-year prison term.

56 per cent want protests to stop 

An Elabe opinion poll published Wednesday said 56 per cent of French people now wanted the protests to stop — 11 points higher than a month ago.

And while 58 per cent of people still backed or had sympathy for the protesters, that was five points lower than two weeks ago and nine points below the level in early January.

Two out of three people thought the recurring Saturday rallies were no longer in keeping with what “yellow vests” originally stood for.

Macron has pledged 10 billion euros ($11.2 billion) in response to anger over the high cost of living, including tax cuts for some pensioners and measures to boost low wages.

He has also spearheaded a “grand national debate” by way of the internet and town hall meetings to gather opinions on how the country could be reformed.

It was not known how many people might turn out for protests over the weekend as social media messaging has alternately called for blocking the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris Saturday, or marching down the Champs-Elysees avenue on Sunday.

Others suggested “yellow vests” should return to their original tactics of massing at roundabouts nationwide and blocking traffic.

AFP

French ‘Yellow Vest’ Boxer Faces Trial For Assaulting Police

A man (C) believed to be Christophe Dettinger takes a boxing stance while clashing with riot police during a demonstration by “Gilets Jaunes” anti-government protestors on a bridge leading to the National Assembly in Paris on January 5, 2019. AFP

 

A former boxer who became a symbol of France’s “yellow vest” protests after being filmed punching police officers during a demonstration in Paris goes on trial Wednesday on charges that carry up to seven years in jail.

Christophe Dettinger, 37, an ex-national light-heavyweight champion, was caught on camera on January 5 throwing a flurry of punches at two officers during clashes on a footbridge over the river Seine near parliament.

The footage, which was played repeatedly on TV and social media, also showed the 1.9-metre (6.3-foot) tall Dettinger kicking one of the officers on the ground.

The scene caused widespread outrage, with the government describing it as a prime example of the violence that has characterised the yellow vest demonstrations since they began in November.

But some of the protesters have hailed Dettinger as a hero for taking on the police.

READ ALSO: 10,000 March In Paris Against ‘Yellow Vest’ Violence

The yellow vest movement — so-named after the luminous safety vests worn by the activists — started over fuel tax hikes and quickly grew into a sustained campaign against the economic policies and leadership style of President Emmanuel Macron.

An angry ‘ordinary citizen’ 

The number of people taking part in the weekly protests has fallen significantly since the start of the year, but the heat has still not left the rebellion, with demonstrations regularly ending in clashes and destruction of property.

Six people were arrested Tuesday morning on suspicion of having used a forklift truck to ram open the doors leading to the office of government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, on the same day as Dettinger’s attack on the police.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said a father and son were among those held over the onslaught, which led to Griveaux being hurriedly evacuated from the building.

Since the start of the protests, 1,796 people have been sentenced in court, notably for the destruction of public property and violence against police.

Another 1,422 are still awaiting trial, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament on Tuesday.

Dettinger, nicknamed “The Gypsy From Massy” during his days in the ring in reference to the town south of Paris where he grew up, turned himself in two days after the incident and has been in custody ever since.

In a video posted a day later on YouTube, he described himself as an “ordinary citizen” acting out of anger with what he called the repressive tactics of the police, who have been criticised for their liberal use of teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.

“I was tear-gassed, with my friend and my wife, and at a certain point the anger just rose up inside me,” he said.

At his first court appearance on January 9 the married father-of-three apologised for his outburst.

His case has elicited widespread sympathy among the yellow vests and their supporters, with an online fundraising drive bringing in more than 117,000 euros ($134,000) towards his legal costs.

In another sign of support, street artists painted two giant black-and-white portraits of the boxer, one showing him punching the policemen, on a wall in northern Paris.

On Friday, a leading figure of the yellow vest movement, 33-year-old truck driver Eric Drouet, will also be tried on charges of illegally organising a demonstration in Paris.

He faces up to six months in prison if convicted.

AFP

10,000 March In Paris Against ‘Yellow Vest’ Violence

Yellow vest “Gilets Jaunes” anti-government protestors walk during a rally in Paris. AFP

 

More than 10,000 people marched through Paris on Sunday in protest at “yellow vest” violence during the anti-government demos that have drawn tens of thousands of people to the streets over the past 11 weeks.

Since mid-November President Emmanuel Macron has offered concessions and debates seeking to quell the weekly rallies that often end in violent clashes with police in the most serious challenge yet to his government.

In Sunday’s rival protest, the crowds marched in rain from the Place de la Nation square to the Bastille monument, some chanting “Yes to democracy, no to revolution” as they waved French and European Union flags.

Dubbed the “red scarf” movement, the centrist initiative is the brainchild of an engineer from Toulouse who was horrified by the violence seen among more extremist “yellow vest” demonstrators.

Many protesters joining the rally said they were not against “yellow vest” demands for greater help for France’s poor, but were sick of the clashes and destruction that have marked protests.

A nursing manager who gave her name as Marie-Line said she believed the yellow vests had just cause to “grumble”, but came “to say that this verbal and physical violence must stop”.

“It’s not a protest against the yellow vests — it’s a protest to say, you’ve made your demands, we are listening to them,” Francois Patriat, a senator from Macron’s centrist party, told AFP at the demonstration.

“There are other places to discuss this than the street. You cannot block the country and economy because you consider the president to be illegitimate.”

Sunday’s protest was almost double the size of the “yellow vest” demonstration in Paris a day earlier, when some 4,000 people came out to rail against Macron.

The protesters are named after the luminous road safety vests that they wear.

Originally sparked by rises in fuel taxes, the movement quickly snowballed into a widespread revolt over accusations the president, an ex-banker, is out of touch with rural and small-town France.

But their numbers have ebbed in recent weeks after Macron announced a series of policy climbdowns and launched a two-month consultation to allow people to vent their anger.

 Prominent ‘yellow vest’ hurt 

Saturday’s protest in Paris saw a prominent “yellow vest” activist, Jerome Rodrigues, badly injured after claims he was hit in the eye by a police rubber bullet — an anti-riot weapon that has become highly controversial in France.

“He is in shock. He will be handicapped for life. It is a tragedy for him and his family,” Rodrigues’ lawyer Philippe de Veulle told BFM television.

Rodrigues, a construction worker, was placed in an artificial coma overnight after the incident at the Bastille monument on Saturday afternoon.

The 40-year-old, who has 50,000 followers on Facebook, was live-streaming the protest on the website when he was hit.

De Veulle said Rodrigues was struck in the eye with a “flash-ball”, referring to the 40-mm (1.6-inch) rubber projectiles used by French riot police.

Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez on Sunday told LCI television there was “no evidence” to show Rodrigues was hit by a police rubber projectile. Investigations were still ongoing into the incident.

The devices — which are not used in most European countries — have been blamed for dozens of serious injuries at “yellow vest” protests, leading to calls for them to be banned.

On Saturday, police using the weapons were for the first time deployed wearing body cams in a bid to increase transparency.

Rodrigues’ lawyer insisted his client was not one of the “hooligans” who have been joining the weekly protests to cause trouble for police.

In the video, Rodrigues can be heard several times warning protesters to leave the Bastille area because hard-left “black bloc” agitators were coming to attack the police.

Rodrigues is lodging a complaint against police, his lawyer said.

Witnesses picked up the projectile that struck Rodrigues and police are set to investigate the circumstances of the incident.

AFP