February 19, 2019

31,000 join ‘yellow vest’ protests across France, 700 detained

09 December 2018, 03:03 | Joann Bryant

A protester throws a tear gas canister back toward the police during a confrontation on Saturday in Paris

A protester throws a tear gas canister back toward the police during a confrontation on Saturday in Paris

Rows of riot police blocked the demonstrators' passage down the Champs-Elysees avenue toward the heart of presidential power, firing tear gas and pushing them back with shields.

Shouts of "Macron Resign!" were heard among crowds, along with cursing at police and the news media.

Thick plumes of black smoke from fires could be seen rising high into the sky over the city.

Police have said more than 350 protesters have already been detained on Saturday morning - mainly preventive arrests as people arrived at Paris mainline stations.

"I'm here for my 15-month-old son". "I'm not so bad off because I have a good salary, I have enough to live".

Despite the climbdown, the "yellow vests" continue to demand more concessions from the government, including lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy costs, better retirement provisions and even Macron's resignation.

"We had to come to Paris to be heard", said protester Herve Benoit, arriving with three friends from the Dordogne in western France.

Some of those arrested were carrying hammers, slingshots and rocks.

In addition to the closure of the Eiffel Tower, many shops and museums across Paris, including the Louvre, the Orsay Museum and the Grand Palais, will be shut on Saturday for safety reasons. Christmas markets, national football matches and countless other events have been cancelled or disrupted by the protests.

Shopkeepers and café owners near the Arc de Triomphe used plywood to board up their windows.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Friday resources would be deployed to stop protests from being hijacked by "a small minority" who have been "radicalized and fallen into violence and hate".

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Friday evening met a delegation of self-described "moderate" yellow vests who urged people not to join the protests. The question now is what is next for this movement that has taken French politicians by surprise?

"We are here to tell (Macron) our discontent". "Some ultra-violent people want to take part".

About 89,000 police were deployed across the country, with 8,000 in Paris alone.

Department stores were also closed due to the risk of looting on what would normally be a busy shopping weekend less than three weeks before Christmas.

The government, as well as most opposition parties and unions have called for calm.

The US embassy issued a warning to Americans in Paris to "keep a low profile and avoid crowds", while Belgium, Portugal and the Czech Republic advised citizens planning to visit Paris over the weekend to postpone their visit.

Macron this week gave in to some of the protesters' demands for measures to help the poor and struggling middle classes, including scrapping a planned increase in fuel taxes and freezing electricity and gas prices in 2019. "Every week they prepare, so every week you have more and more people who want to break".

In the Dutch city of Rotterdam, a few hundred protesters in the high-visibility vests walked peacefully across the Erasmus Bridge singing and handing flowers to passers-by.

Amid the melee, President Emmanuel Macron remained invisible and silent, as he has for the four weeks of a movement that started as a protest against a gas tax hike and metamorphosed into a rebellion against high taxes and eroding living standards.

But the policy, along with hikes on pensioners' taxes, cuts in housing allowances and a string of comments deemed insensitive to ordinary workers, has led critics to label him a "president of the rich".

Police and protesters also clashed in the southern French cities of Marseille and Toulouse.

The climbdown on higher fuel taxes - which were meant to help France transition to a greener economy - marked a major departure for the centrist president.

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