French police clash with protesters as ‘yellow vests’ return to the streets

Policeman injured and riverboat restaurant set ablaze during unrest in Paris

Protesters try to cross a bridge over the Seine river during a ‘yellow vests’ protest in Paris, France. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

Protesters try to cross a bridge over the Seine river during a ‘yellow vests’ protest in Paris, France. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

 

Rioters in Paris torched motorbikes and set barricades ablaze on the upmarket Boulevard Saint-Germain on Saturday, as “yellow vest” protesters returned to the streets to demonstrate against high living costs and the perceived indifference of president Emmanuel Macron.

The latest “yellow vest” street marches began peacefully in the French capital but degenerated in the afternoon as protesters threw missiles at riot police blocking bridges over the Seine river.

Officers fired tear gas to prevent protesters crossing the river and reaching the National Assembly. One riverboat restaurant was set ablaze in the unrest, and a policeman was wounded when he was struck by a bicycle hurled from a street above the riverbank.

Two months after they started blocking roads, occupying highway tollbooths and staging sometimes-violent street protests in Paris, the “yellow vest” demonstrators wanted to inject new momentum into their movement, which had weakened over the holidays.

Mr Macron’s government, shaken by the unrest, had this week hardened its stance against the uprising, branding the protesters as agitators seeking to overthrow the government.

Protesters build a barricade as clashes with French riot police erupt during a ‘yellow vests’ protest in Paris, France. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA
Protesters build a barricade as clashes with French riot police erupt during a ‘yellow vests’ protest in Paris, France. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

Driving the unrest is anger, particularly among low-paid workers, over a squeeze on household incomes and a belief that Mr Macron is deaf to citizens’ needs as he enacts reforms seen as favouring the wealthy.

“They have no right to leave us in the shit like this,” said protester Francois Cordier in Paris. “We’re fed up with having to pay out the whole time, we’ve had enough of this slavery, we should be able to live on our salaries.”

There were similar protests in other cities across France on Saturday, including in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Rouen and Marseille.

An estimated 25,000 took to the streets nationwide in what was dubbed Act VIII of the “yellow vests” movement, BFM TV reported, barely 10 per cent of the number in the first weeks of protests, but higher than the figure for last weekend.

As darkness fell, officers dispersed scores of protesters gathered on the Champs-Élysées. Television images showed hooded youths setting a car alight on a side street, but there was no repeat of the damage done during the protests in late November, when shops were looted, banks were vandalised and the Arc de Triomphe was defaced.

Fringe groups

Authorities have blamed the worst of the violence in recent weeks on anarchists, anti-capitalists and extreme groups on the fringes of the “yellow vest” movement.

The protests come 18 months into Mr Macron’s tenure and amid his drive to reshape the economy. They have already forced concessions from the 41-year-old president.

Last month, Mr Macron promised tax cuts for pensioners, wage rises for the poorest workers and the scrapping of planned fuel tax increases to quell the unrest, at a cost to the state of €10 billion.

Protesters walk alongside the Seine river during a ‘yellow vests’ protest in Paris, France. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA
Protesters walk alongside the Seine river during a ‘yellow vests’ protest in Paris, France. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

The announcement marked the first big U-turn for a president elected on a platform of breaking with traditional French politics and liberalising the heavily-regulated economy.

Faced with record-low popularity ratings, Mr Macron is expected to pen a letter soon to the nation setting out his plans for the coming months. These include a nationwide debate with citizens on ecological, fiscal and institutional questions, the results of which he promises will feed into the policy-making process. – Reuters