French ‘yellow vest’ protesters return to Paris streets

Published September 13, 2020
French riot police officers walk past a burning car during a demonstration of the yellow vests movement in Paris on Saturday.—Reuters
French riot police officers walk past a burning car during a demonstration of the yellow vests movement in Paris on Saturday.—Reuters

PARIS: Around 1,000 people gathered in two “yellow vest” protests in the French capital Paris on Saturday in lower-than-expected numbers for the movement’s hoped-for September comeback, later clashing with police who fired tear gas.

A journalist saw at least one car and rubbish bins set on fire and street furniture toppled by demonstrators near Place Wagram in northwest Paris, while police lobbed tear gas grenades after the march left its planned route. Tens of thousands rallied in 2018-19 under the yellow vests’ banner 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 on 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 in the crowd at Place de Wagram before the march got started.

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.” A second march starting from central Place de la Bourse saw protesters brandish signs with modest demands like “being able to fill your fridge properly”.

“Today is kind of a test for what comes next, but the movement isn’t running out of steam,” said pensioners Pascale and Patrick, veterans of the movement’s demonstrations at traffic roundabouts in provincial towns.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2020

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