Thousands of yellow vest protesters rally for 21st consecutive week

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The yellow vest movement has attracted large crowds and remains a challenge to President Emmanuel Macron as it hits its 21st consecutive week. Protesters are demanding social and economic justice.

Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration during the 21st consecutive national protest of the yellow vests movement at the financial district of La Defense near Paris, France, April 6, 2019
Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration during the 21st consecutive national protest of the yellow vests movement at the financial district of La Defense near Paris, France, April 6, 2019 (Reuters)

Thousands of yellow vest protesters marched on Saturday for the 21st consecutive week to denounce French government policies, as authorities prepare to unveil the results of a nationwide consultative exercise designed to address public grievances.

From Rouen in the north and Lyon in the southeast – as well as the capital Paris – protesters took to the streets carrying banners denouncing French President Emmanuel Macron. In the west, French and German activists joined forces on the border.

Some masked protesters clashed with police in Rouen, but it was not comparable to the scale of violence seen in previous weeks, such as the March 16 riots in Paris that saw luxury stores on the Champs-Elysees ransacked.

Interior ministry figures, which are consistently dismissed as underestimates by the protesters, put the turnout across France at 22,300 of whom 3,500 were in Paris.

It’s officially the lowest figure recorded, and significantly down compared to the 282,000 people who turned out for the first rally in November last year. But many of the remaining activists insist they will keep marching until they get satisfaction from the government.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has been heavily criticised both by yellow vest activists and opposition politicians for having played down reports of police violence, despite serious injuries among protesters.

“What will get me to stop, is the resignation of Castaner, because of the police violence,” said Catherine, a 59-year-old demonstrator in Paris.

Solutions

Next week, the government will announce the results of the “Great National Debate”, a series of town hall meetings launched across France in January to lower the temperature of the nation – and get Macron’s troubled presidency back on course by collating grievances and finding solutions.

Macron’s office said the president would announce the first measures to be taken by the mid-April, but many yellow vest activists have denounced the exercise as a smoke screen designed to distract attention.

An opinion poll published by Delabre on Thursday suggested that the public was not convinced of government measures. Over 1,000 people were surveyed and an immense 68 percent said they didn’t think people’s views would be taken in to account. Some 79 percent didn’t think it would resolve the current political crisis.

The government received a setback last Thursday when the French Constitutional Council struck down a measure that would let authorities ban certain individuals from protesting.

It was a key element of the government’s plan to crack down on violence at yellow vest demonstrations but the council, which rules on the validity of laws, said the proposal gave officials ‘excessive latitude’.

A new law will nevertheless allow authorities to impose heavy fines on people organising unauthorised demonstrations and for anyone covering their face during a protest.

France has been rocked by months of weekly Saturday protests by yellow vest protesters, which initially emerged over fuel taxes before snowballing into a broad revolt against Macron.

While most demonstrators have marched peacefully, some protests have turned into rioting and fierce clashes with police.

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