French yellow vest protesters condemn injuries, blame police
PARIS (AP) — France’s yellow vest protesters were back on the streets Saturday to keep up the pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron’s government and to decry the number of people being injured by police during the anti-government demonstrations.
Multiple protests in Paris and other cities denounced Macron’s economic policies, which they view as favoring the rich, for the 12th straight weekend of demonstrations. Most were peaceful.
In Paris, scuffles broke out between some protesters and police around the Republic plaza, northeast of the city center, where hundreds of demonstrators headed on Saturday afternoon. Police managed to disperse most of the crowd.
Some clashes between protesters and police also took place in the southern cities of Bordeaux, Toulouse and Valence.
Thousands of demonstrators in the French capital paid tribute to the yellow vests who have been injured during clashes with police in an effort to unite the movement despite growing divisions. Several competing groups of yellow vests are getting ready to present candidates for the European Parliament election in May, while other figures insist the movement must remain non-political.
The government says around 2,000 people have been injured in protests since the movement began Nov. 17, including at least four serious eye injuries. Separately, 10 people have died in traffic accidents related to yellow vest actions.
Franck Dideron, 20, said he was protesting peacefully, speaking on the phone to his mother, when his eye was injured by a rubber bullet fired by police during a Dec. 1 protest near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
“The policeman shot me voluntarily. And I was just turning around — how was that violent behavior? How was I dangerous for him?” he asked The Associated Press. “Today, I would like to see this policeman come and stand in front of me, look me in the eye and tell me why he shot me.”
Jerome Rodrigues, a prominent member of the movement who suffered an eye injury last week, was widely applauded by the crowd Saturday.
A French police investigation is still trying to determine how Rodrigues was injured. Video images show Rodriguez collapsed on the ground last Saturday near the Bastille monument, where protesters throwing projectiles clashed with police.
Antonio Barbetta, a 40-year-old protester with injured foot, call the police response to the yellow vests “excessive.”
“I’m in contact with a large number of injured people and I can tell you that these were nonviolent people. I myself am against all forms of violence on either side,” he said.
France’s Council of State ruled Friday that security forces have a right to use controversial high-velocity rubber bullets for crowd control.
Benjamin Cauchy, a yellow vest spokesman from southern France who came to the Paris protest, called that a “regrettable decision.”
The weapon “is extremely harmful, imprecise and in the end is causing more sorrow than security,” he told BFM television.
The Council of State noted the frequency of violence and property destruction at the protests and concluded the devices are not a “grave attack” on the freedom to demonstrate and are not inhumane treatment.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner tweeted Friday that “if the law was respected, there would be no injured.”
The French parliament is debating a bill to strengthen measures against troublemakers who use protests to attack police. Rights groups and opposition lawmakers, however, say it goes too far in restricting the right to protest.
The bill could let local prefects prevent people they see as a serious threat to public order from taking part in protests. It could also make it a crime for protesters to conceal their faces.
Around 69,000 people nationwide took part in French protests last week, down from more than 80,000 the previous two weekends, according to the French Interior Ministry.
The yellow vests movement began in November and was named after the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists must carry.
Alexander Turnbull and Milos Krivokapic contributed to the story.