Low turnout at new French ‘yellow vest’ protests
A few hundred people gathered in Paris Saturday as France’s “yellow vest” demonstrators attempted to stage a September comeback after months of virus lockdown and summer holidays, falling short of hoped-for numbers.
In 2018-19, tens of thousands rallied to repeated protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s perceived prioritisation of business and the rich over struggling ordinary families.
The demonstrations sometimes descended into scenes of violence and looting that drew harsh police responses, which were in turn criticised in France and beyond.
With its weak turnout Saturday, “the movement is dead, I’ll say that clearly, but we’re here because we have nothing to lose. This is a kind of last stand,” said Michael, a 43-year old protester who joined a 100-strong crowd at Place de Wagram in northwestern Paris.
Stephane, a 48-year-old who had travelled from the Paris suburbs to join the rally, disagreed.
The yellow vests movement “has been struggling for a few months but it will never die,” he said. “As more people are laid off from their jobs, they’ll increasingly wake up.”
Hundreds of police were deployed at the Champs-Elysees avenue in central Paris where city authorities banned demonstrations.
Officers checked the identity cards of passers-by and searched their bags, while many storefronts were boarded up in anticipation of looting which occurred repeatedly during last year’s violence.
“We can’t have destruction and chaos on the Champs-Elysees,” Paris police chief Didier Lallement said Saturday morning. “There’s a need for calm on this avenue which is a showcase for our country. So I banned the demonstrations.”
Ahead of Saturday’s protests, police had said they expected up to 5,000 people to attend, with 1,000 of them potentially violent.
Some 81 people had been arrested by around 11 am (0900 GMT) especially for carrying objects like screwdrivers, ice axes and knives that “have no place at a demonstration,” the police posted on Twitter.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had announced slightly tougher rules on how police use controversial rubber bullets and other crowd-control weapons Friday ahead of the expected marches.
Officers must now ask supervisors for permission to fire the projectiles, which have been responsible for injuries including destroying the eyes of some protesters like leading light Jerome Rodrigues.
“Yellow vest” marches had been announced for other major cities in France including Marseille, Toulouse, Lyon and Lille.
Authorities in past protest hotspot Toulouse banned the planned demonstration there, citing coronavirus restrictions.
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