‘Yellow Vest protesters clash with police in fresh Paris rallies

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Officials have vowed zero tolerance for the violence that has marred the weekly protests since they began two months ago, deploying some 80,000 security forces nationwide.

A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and a yellow vest (gilet jaune), holds a French flag in front of the Arc de Triomphe during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vest movement in Paris, on January 12, 2019.
A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and a yellow vest (gilet jaune), holds a French flag in front of the Arc de Triomphe during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vest movement in Paris, on January 12, 2019. (AFP)

Protesters skirmished with police in Paris and other cities Saturday as thousands turned out for new rallies against French President Emmanuel Macron, with dozens arrested as officials vowed a crackdown on the violence that has marred the demonstrations since November.

The “yellow vest” marches began calmly amid a heavy police deployment of some 80,000 officers nationwide, with protesters singing the “Marseillaise” national anthem and holding signs including “Insecurity is not a job”.

But scores of protesters later clashed with riot police after arriving at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, prompting volleys of tear gas and water cannon as security forces prevented them from reaching the Champs-Elysees.

TRT World’s Oliver Whitfield-Miocic reports from Paris.

Around 84,000 protesters turned out for the ninth round of “yellow vest” rallies across France, up from 50,000 the previous week, the interior ministry said, adding that 244 people were detained.

Many of the central districts of the capital were on lockdown for the ninth straight Saturday of protests, which have picked up steam after a holiday lull.

Dozens of banks, jewellery stores and other shops were boarded up on the Champs-Elysees and elsewhere across the city, which have taken a heavy toll on businesses.

“We’ve come to Paris to make ourselves heard, and we wanted to see for ourselves at least once what’s going on here,” said Patrick, 37, who told AFP he had travelled from the Savoie region.

TRT World’s Editor at Large Craig Copetas has more from Paris.

Police said some 30 people had been detained in the capital earlier for carrying weapons or other charges.

“We’ve come to Paris to make ourselves heard, and we wanted to see for ourselves at least once what’s going on here,” said Patrick, 37, who told AFP he had travelled from the Savoie region of western France.

A Yellow Vest (Gilets jaunes) protester lights a flare during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vest movement in Marseille, southern France, on January 12, 2019.
A Yellow Vest (Gilets jaunes) protester lights a flare during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vest movement in Marseille, southern France, on January 12, 2019. (AFP)

‘Macron resign!’ 

In the well-heeled racehorsing town of Chantilly just north of Paris, 1,000 or so protesters marched through the centre before descending on the Hippodrome where they delayed the start of a race, local media said.

And another 1,200 protesters gathered in the central city of Bourges, where some yellow-vest organisers were hoping to those from areas far from the capital.

Signs said “Macron resign!” and “France is angry,” while local prosecutor Joel Garrigue said five people had been detained after police discovered a cache of ball bearings during a search of their car.

The protests also spilt 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.

French gendarmes stand guard with their armoured vehicles (VBRG) in front of the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue, during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vest movement in Paris, on January 12, 2019.
French gendarmes stand guard with their armoured vehicles (VBRG) in front of the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue, during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vest movement in Paris, on January 12, 2019. (AFP)

Mutual mistrust

Officials had warned of bigger and more violent protests than last week, when demonstrators rammed a forklift truck through the main doors of a government ministry in Paris.

“Those who are calling to demonstrate tomorrow know there will be violence, and therefore they are in part responsible,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a Facebook interview Friday with Brut, a digital news site favoured by many yellow vests.

But many yellow vests pointed to images of a police officer repeatedly striking an unarmed man on the ground during a protest last week in Toulon, accusing the police of excessive use of force.

The movement, which began as protests over high fuel taxes, has snowballed into a wholesale rejection of Macron and his policies, which are seen favouring the wealthy at the expense of rural and small-town France.

A demonstrator holds a placard reading
A demonstrator holds a placard reading “RIC (for “Citizens’ Initiative Referendum”) on any matter”, as people stand on the Galeries Lafayette pedestrian bridge in Paris, during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vest “Gilets Jaunes” movement, on January 12, 2019. (AFP)

Politicians inspire ‘distrust, disgust’

Macron has called for a national debate starting next week to hear voters’ grievances, hoping to sate demands for more of a say in national law-making and tamp down the protesters’ anger.

He has already unveiled a 10-billion-euro ($11.5 billion) financial relief package for low earners, and axed the planned fuel tax hike.

But the public consultations risk being hobbled by record levels of distrust towards politicians and representatives of the state.

A poll by the Cevipof political sciences institute released Friday showed 77 percent of respondents thought politicians inspired “distrust”, “disgust” or “boredom”.

And Macron may not have done himself any favours on Friday, when he told a gathering at the Elysee Palace that “too many of our citizens think they can get something without making the necessary effort.”

Source: AFP
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