French yellow vest protests tense despite dwindling numbers
PARIS (AP) — Thousands of French yellow vest protesters marched for a 17th straight weekend in Paris and other cities, with tensions at times but dwindling numbers.
There were no signs of the serious clashes or violence that was a hallmark of some past demonstrations.
The Interior Ministry counted 28,600 protesters around France by day’s end — more than 10,000 less than a week earlier, French media reported. It said 3,000 protesters gathered in the French capital.
Police fired tear gas and used water cannons at the end of the Paris demonstration. Some in the crowd had their faces covered in black and carried black flags, refusing to leave the Champs-Elysees, the capital’s main avenue where a peaceful march began hours earlier.
Some sang in defiance at the lines of riot police. A bare-chested man faced down the bursts from the water cannons in chilly weather. But there was no rioting like that seen during the height of some past protests when demonstrators burned cars, hurled rocks and even bicycles at police officers and smashed storefronts.
Overall, the numbers of protesters in the yellow vest movement, which held its first nationwide protests Nov. 17, have been steadily declining despite new tactics to encourage participation. A planned weekend sit-in near the Eiffel Tower flopped Friday night when police dismantled wooden structures a group had been setting up.
The grassroots movement still counts on a huge turnout next Saturday, marking its four-month anniversary.
The Paris protest started with a festive note with women, some carrying pink balloons, leading a calm and orderly march while advocating for equal rights and equal pay a day after International Women’s Day.
The march, which began at the Arc de Triomphe, at the top of the Champs-Elysees, looped through both sides of the Seine River before ending at the top of Luxembourg Gardens on the Left Bank.
Marches were also held in numerous cities around France, including Bordeaux, which has a strong contingent of yellow vest protesters, Lille, and Le Puy-en-Velay, in south-central France, where hundreds joined from other regions. Many shopkeepers there boarded up their businesses in advance. Protesters had burned the regional prefecture in the town in especially violent protests on Dec. 1. President Emmanuel Macron later visited Le Puy-en-Velay.
Polls have shown support by the French fading because of violence and costs to shopkeepers who preventatively close stores to protect wares as well as to France’s image abroad.
The movement, named after the fluorescent emergency vests the French are required to keep in their cars, held its first nationwide protest by blocking vehicles at traffic circles. The main complaint then was fuel tax hikes, but that long ago expanded to an array of demands to maintain pressure on the government to reverse policies they see as favoring the rich. Calls for a citizens’ referendum is now among top demands on the list, along with increased purchasing power.
The yellow vests have been a major challenge to Macron, who has organized national debates around the country — many of which he attends, responding to questions. He has also offered a multibillion-euro package of measures to appease them.
But determination hasn’t flagged for many, and figures in the leaderless movement are trying to energize others for next Saturday’s protest, which coincides with the end of the president’s two months of debates.
“The people don’t want more of this financial globalization,” Paris protester Yannick Caroff said. “The French people will not back down.”