French police clash with demonstrators as ‘yellow vest’ protests continue

Thousands take to the streets for the fifth weekend despite Strasbourg attack

‘Yellow vest’ protesters march in front of police  in Paris, France. Photograph: Véronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

‘Yellow vest’ protesters march in front of police in Paris, France. Photograph: Véronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

 

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of French cities on Saturday in the fifth weekend of demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron’s government, ignoring calls to hold off after a gun attack in Strasbourg this week.

In Paris, police were out in force for the protest. But the demonstrations were noticeably smaller than in previous weeks, possibly in response to the Strasbourg attack or to the cold, rainy weather.

Police fired water cannons and teargas in the afternoon to disperse groups of protesters in sporadic, brief clashes on the Champs-Élysées and adjacent streets. Topless feminist activists braved the cold to face off with security forces, a few metres away from the Élysée Palace, the president’s residence. And French media showed footage of clashes between police and protesters in Nantes, western France, and further south in Bordeaux and Toulouse.

Protesters gather at Place de l’Opéra during a ‘yellow vest’ demonstration in Paris, France. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Protesters gather at Place de l’Opéra during a ‘yellow vest’ demonstration in Paris, France. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The “yellow vest” protest movement started in mid-November with demonstrations at junctions and roundabouts against fuel tax increases, but quickly became a wider mobilisation against Mr Macron’s economic policies. Successive weekends of protests in Paris have led to vandalism and violent clashes with security forces. Despite the protests in the city, several major stores, such as the Galeries Lafayette, opened to lure in Christmas shoppers.

Loic Bollay (44), marching on the Champs-Élysées in a yellow vest on Saturday, said the protests were more subdued, but the movement would go on until the demonstrators’ grievances were addressed. “Since the Strasbourg attack, it is calmer, but I think next Saturday and the following Saturdays . . . it will come back.”

Interior minister Christophe Castaner said about 69,000 police were active on Saturday, with a reinforced presence in Toulouse, Bordeaux and Saint-Étienne. Official figures said 66,000 protesters had been counted in France by 5pm GMT, compared with 126,000 at the same time a week before.

Arrests

In Paris, some 4,000 protesters marched in splintered groups in several neighbourhoods, and at least 168 were arrested, a police official said.

On Friday, Mr Macron had called for a return to calm in France after nearly a month of the protests. The demonstrations have hit growth and caused widespread disruption. “France needs calm, order and a return to normal,” Mr Macron said, after a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels.

In a televised address last Monday, Mr Macron announced wage rises for the poorest workers and tax cuts for pensioners in further concessions meant to end the movement, but many activists said they would maintain pressure.

The government, as well as several unions and opposition politicians, had called on protesters to stay off the streets this weekend, after four people were killed in a gun attack at a Christmas market in the historic city of Strasbourg. – Reuters