French violence flares as yellow vest protests enter fourth month

Remigio Civitarese
Marzo 17, 2019

Rioters set fire to a bank and ransacked stores on Paris's Champs Elysees avenue on Saturday, in a new flare-up of violence as France's yellow vest protests against President Emmanuel Macron and his pro-business reforms entered a fourth month.

One arson fire targeted a bank near the Champs-Elysees on the ground floor of a seven-story residential building.

Smoke and tear gas shrouded the Champs-Elysées and at least 109 people were arrested in the worst outbreak of violence on the fringes of a "yellow vest" demonstration in Paris for several weeks.

"Let there be no doubt: they are looking for violence and are there to sow chaos in Paris", Interior Minister Christophe Castaner wrote in a tweet.

Protester wearing a yellow vest holds a flag during a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris.

Protest organizers had hoped to make a splash Saturday, which marks the 4-month anniversary of the yellow vest movement, which started November 17, and the end of the "Great Debate" that the French president organized to respond to protesters' concerns about sinking living standards, stagnant wages and high unemployment.

Yellow vest groups representing teachers, unemployed people and labor unions were among those that organized dozens of rallies and marches Saturday in the capital and around France.

The turnout was seen as a test for the "yellow-vest" movement, which began in November over fuel tax hikes and quickly ballooned into an anti-government rebellion but has struggled lately to mobilise large numbers of protesters.

Named after the high-visibility vests French drivers have to keep in their cars and worn by protesters, the revolt swelled into a broader movement against Macron, his reforms and elitism.

Protesters threw cobblestones at riot police through clouds of tear gas in front of Paris' Arc de Triumphed monument, which was ransacked at the peak of the protests in December.

But many "yellow vests" dismissed the consultation exercise as a smoke-screen. He also said the Paris crowd included 1,500 "ultraviolent ones who are there to smash things up".

Protesters were out in force today, pouring into the capital from around the country. Over 5,000 police were deployed, along with several armoured police vehicles.

Macron, who was caught off guard when the grassroots movement erupted in November, loosened the state's purse strings to the tune of 10 billion euros ($11.2 billion) to try defuse the protests.

But the measures failed to quell the anger of the demonstrators, who accuse Macron, a centrist former investment banker, of being beholden to high finance.

As well as a surge in numbers on Saturday, there was a return to the levels of violence that characterised the early protests.

The protest was one of several planned in Paris on Saturday, where climate campaigners also gathered in their thousands to demand Macron go further on greening the economy.

"As long as we don't get any results, we will continue (to protest) for all we asked for: pay rises, pensions, purchasing power, food waste".

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