France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement back on streets

Thousands of protesters returned on Saturday to protest against president Emmanuel Macron’s policies

epa07322490 Police officers aim LDB-40 flashball (non-lethal rubber bullet guns) as protesters from the 'Gilets Jaunes' (Yellow Vests) movement take part in the 'Act IX' demonstration as clashes erupt  during the 'Act XI' demonstration (the 11th consecutive national protest on a Saturday) in Paris, France, 26 January 2019. The so-called 'gilets jaunes' (yellow vests) is a grassroots protest movement with supporters from a wide span of the political spectrum, that originally started with protest across the nation in late 2018 against high fuel prices. The movement in the meantime also protests the French government's tax reforms, the increasing costs of living and some even call for the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron.  EPA/ETIENNE LAURENT
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Thousands of 'yellow vest' protesters returned to the streets of France on Saturday to protest against president Emmanuel Macron's policies, despite disagreement in their ranks on how to take the movement forward.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons to push back protesters at Place de la Bastille in Paris, one of the regular protest sites, as some demonstrators threw stones from a building site.

The local prefecture reported 223 arrests in Paris.


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Interior ministry estimated at 2pm that numbers for the 11th week of protests had dropped to 22,000 compared to 27,000 same time last week.

In Paris, the official count was 2,500 demonstrators against 7,000 the previous weekend.

There were clashes too in the southern city of Montpellier, where a police officer was injured by “a pyrotechnic device” said a statement from the local prefecture.

The weekend’s protests against Macron’s tax and social policies came as divisions appeared among the yellow vests – named after the high-visibility vests they wear – as to where to take the movement.

In a new political development, a 31-year-old nurse named Ingrid Levavasseur said this week she would lead a yellow vest list of candidates for the European elections in May.

An initial survey in the wake of the announcement suggested the group would garner a respectable 13 per cent of the vote.

But not every protester appeared to welcome this development. "There is a hard core that is ready to keep fighting," said Gilbert Claro from the Paris suburbs. But the movement "is not meant to be political", he added.

“We have to keep the pressure on in the streets,” to get their demands accepted, said Virginie, an activist in her 40s who said she had been involved in the protests from the beginning.

She and many other protesters want a citizen-sponsored referendum so ordinary people can have more of a say in government policy.

Although Mr Macron made some concessions last December in a bid to end the protests, this idea has been consistently rejected by the government.

Recent opinion polls, however, suggest that he has regained some of the ground lost during the crisis, as he has put his case at a series of town-hall events around the country.

The 'great national debate' he initiated in response to the protests has nevertheless been dismissed as a public relations operation by many protesters.

A “masquerade”, said Mathieu Styrna, a 36-year-old carpenter from northern France in Paris for the protests. His impression was that the participants had been selected.

Outside Paris, several thousand protesters were marching in Bordeaux and Toulouse, two cities where support for the movement has been consistently strong.

In Marseille, members of the CGT union joined the protests and about a thousand turned out in Lyon.

In the north, officials in Evreux, Normandy, reported clashes and damage to the police and Banque de France buildings.

In Paris and other cities, the yellow vest movement put out a call to continue the protests into the night.

For the first time on Saturday, riot police using the controversial defence ball launchers were equipped with cameras. The guns shoot rubber and foam rounds.

A French court on Friday refused a bid brought by France’s League for Human Rights and the CGT to ban the weapons, blamed for serious injuries suffered by some demonstrators.

The police authority in Paris announced the introduction of the cameras in a move for greater transparency.

On Sunday, supporters of the government will stage their first “red-scarf” protest to represent what they say is “the silent majority” defending “democracy and its institutions” and denouncing the violence of the yellow vests protests.