PARIS: Over a hundred demonstrators were arrested at yellow vest protests in Paris on Saturday as about 7,500 police were deployed to deal with the movement’s radical anarchist “black blocs” strand.
After first marching with the yellow vests, around 1,000 radical demonstrators joined a separate march against climate change where they provoked clashes with police, authorities said.
Two bank buildings were damaged in the clashes, along with motor scooters, windows and other property. Some activists built makeshift roadblocks which they then torched.
The climate march organisers urged protesters to go home to avoid the clashes which involved teargas and baton charges.
The yellow vest movement erupted 10 months ago and blindsided President Emmanuel Macron, whom protesters accuse of being out of touch with the needs of ordinary French people.
“We are assembling just to say that we can’t make ends meet. [The protest] is not only against the president, it’s against the system,” said a female protester who did not give her name.
Others denounced what they said was overreach by security forces. “This is hell. We’re fewer than 100, and police charge. That’s David versus Goliath,” said demonstrator Pierre, his eyes red with teargas.
The weekly demonstrations — Saturday was the 45th — prompted Macron to loosen the state’s purse strings to the tune of nearly 17 billion euros ($18.8 billion) in wage boosts and tax cuts for low earners, but tapered off over the summer.
However, it remains to be seen whether the movement will regain the momentum of the winter and early spring, when the protests often descended into violent clashes with security forces, especially in Paris.
By the afternoon, police had arrested 106 demonstrators, police headquarters said, adding that some had been found to carry hammers or petrol canisters.
The authorities had banned demonstrations in some areas of the city including tourism hotspot Champs-Elysees but some protesters violated the ban, leading to a tense standoff with police who used teargas and batons to scatter them.
Macron on Friday called for “calm”, saying that while “it’s good that people express themselves”, they should not disrupt a climate protest and cultural events also due to go ahead on Saturday.
The number of police deployed for Saturday’s rallies are on a par with the peak of the yellow vest protests in December and March.
Key yellow-vest figure Jerome Rodrigues has billed Saturday’s protest as “a revelatory demonstration”, claiming “many people are going to come to Paris”.
But officials again outlawed protests on the Champs-Elysees and other areas in the heart of the capital, where previously protesters had ransacked and set fire to luxury shops and restaurants during previous rallies.
Some demonstrators in January even used a forklift truck to break down the doors of a government ministry.
The police have also been criticised for being heavy-handed in clashes with hardcore anti-capitalist “black bloc” groups blamed for much of the violence that has accompanied the demonstrations.
Saturday coincides with the annual European Heritage Days weekend, when public and private buildings normally off-limits to the public are open to visitors.
After attracting 282,000 people nationwide on the first day of protests last November, yellow-vest protest participation had fallen sharply by the spring, and only sporadic protests were seen over the summer.
Macron said in an interview with Time magazine published on Thursday that the movement had been “very good for me” as it had made him listen and communicate better. “My challenge is to listen to people much better than I did at the very beginning,” he said.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2019