PARIS: France’s Yellow Vest movement staged mostly peaceful anti-government rallies on Saturday for the eighth weekend in a row but the protests ended with a small group smashing down the entrance to the ministry of the government spokesman.
French television showed thousands marching along the Seine in Paris to gather in front of the National Assembly as well as a large crowd amassed in front of the Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux. Several thousand Yellow Vest protesters also blocked highway traffic in Lyon, according to Agence France-Presse. About 50,000 took to the streets nationwide — four times the total of a week ago, AFP reported, citing French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
Although several hundred people were detained by authorities during protests on previous Saturdays after showdowns between protesters and police forces, only a few reports emerged today. Still, as marchers dispersed around 4 pm local time in the French capital, tensions increased. Firemen intervened to extinguish scooters and bins that had been set on fire, in particular on the posh Boulevard Saint-Germain.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told AFP that a small group — with some people wearing yellow vests — took over a construction vehicle and “smashed down the door of the ministry” around 4.30 pm. The group then damaged two cars and broke windows in the front yard of the ministry and left, Griveaux said.
“Attacking a ministry is like attacking the common good, the Republic,” the government spokesman said in a tweet. “Those who carried out these unspeakable acts are enemies of democracy.”
For the last two months people across France have donned the high-visibility vests that motorists must keep in their cars, expressing a range of grievances and demands, from lower taxes and higher wages to better public services. The number of people rallying on the streets on Saturdays has consistently diminished after the first “Day of Action” on Nov. 17, drew some 300,000 people.
French public opinion still largely backs the demands of the Yellow Vests, but active support has waned after President Emmanuel Macron made concessions and some protesters turned violent, burning cars and looting stores. Macron last month announced he’d boost the minimum wage, scrap taxes on overtime and year-end bonuses, and scrap a new tax on pensions. Most Yellow Vest leaders denounced the measures as inadequate and said protests would continue.