Tens of thousands take to streets in Act 9 of ‘Yellow Vest’ protests

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Around 84,000 protesters — up from 50,000 the previous week — took to the streets in “Yellow Vest” rallies across France on Saturday for a ninth straight weekend of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.

Paris police fired water cannon and tear gas to repel “Yellow Vest” demonstrators around the Arc de Triomphe as scuffles broke out between police and protesters near the monument. Police established a car ban on the nearby Champs-Élysées avenue.

Around 84,000 demonstrators took to the streets of French cities and towns, said French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, adding that 244 people were detained.

Many sang the “Marseillaise” national anthem, while others shouted “Macron resign!” or “Free Christophe,” a reference to the ex-boxer filmed viciously beating two officers during last week’s protest.

For the first time organisers of the Paris march deployed teams wearing white arm bands to corral the march that began near the Place de la Bastille.

Meanwhile, around 4,800 yellow vest protesters, according to local authorities were marching in Bourges, a provincial capital with a renowned Gothic cathedral and picturesque wood-framed houses. Online groups mounted calls over the past week for actions in the town because of its location in the center of France.

Authorities deployed 80,000 security forces nationwide for the anti-government protests.

The protesters began to disperse as night fell, however, and police began removing armoured vehicles and trucks in an atmosphere of relative calm.

The movement waned over the holidays but appears to be resurging, despite Macron’s promises of billions of euros in tax relief and an upcoming “national debate” to address demonstrators’ concerns. Protesters want deeper changes to France’s economy and politics, seen as favoring the rich.

‘Condescending and arrogant’

The yellow vest movement, which began as protests over high fuel taxes, has snowballed into a wholesale rejection of Macron and his policies, which are seen as favouring the wealthy at the expense of rural and small-town France.

Officials had feared bigger and more violent protests than last week, when demonstrators rammed a forklift truck through the main doors of a government ministry in Paris.

But many demonstrators say the violence cuts both ways, pointing to social media footage of a police officer repeatedly striking an unarmed man on the ground during a protest last week in Toulon.

Macron has called for a national debate starting next week to hear voters’ grievances, hoping to sate demands for more of a say in national law-making and tamp down the protesters’ anger.

He has already unveiled a 10-billion-euro ($11.5 billion) financial relief package for low earners, and axed the planned fuel tax hike.

But the public consultations risk being hobbled by record levels of distrust towards politicians and representatives of the state.

A poll by the Cevipof political sciences institute released Friday showed 77 percent of respondents thought politicians inspired “distrust”, “disgust” or “boredom”.

And Macron may not have endeared himself to many voters on Friday, when he told a gathering at the Elysee Palace that “too many of our citizens think they can get something without making the necessary effort.”

“I work 60 hours a week and don’t even make the minimum wage!” said Maurice, a 60-year-old carpenter at a protest in Strasbourg.

“Macron goes too far, he’s condescending and arrogant. We want the system to change,” added his wife, declining to give her name.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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