Thousands march as France’s ‘yellow vest’ protests rumble on

Protesters wearing yellow vests take part in a demonstration of the “yellow vests” movement in Marseille, France. (Reuters pic)

PARIS: Tens of thousands of people marched on Saturday in Paris and other cities and dozens were arrested as France’s “yellow vest” movement staged its 15th consecutive weekend of demonstrations against the government.

Some 46,600 people joined the protests nationwide, including 5,800 in the capital, the Interior Ministry said. That was up from 41,500 last week, with 5,000 in Paris.

Demonstrations have generally gotten smaller since a peak in December when the French capital saw some of the worst rioting, vandalism and looting in decades.

The protests — named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists have to carry in their cars — began in mid-November over rising fuel prices and the cost of living, but swelled into a broader movement against President Emmanuel Macron and his pro-business reforms.

Police said 28 people were arrested in Paris, but protesters marched mostly peacefully through the capital’s wealthier neighbourhoods surrounded by a heavy police presence.

As the march wound down, scuffles broke out and police used tear gas to disperse crowds at the Place du Trocadero overlooking the Seine river and across from the Eiffel Tower. Two people were injured.

Some 18 people were also arrested in the central city of Clermont-Ferrand and potentially dangerous objects were seized ahead of a march in which police said 2,500 participated.

Another 18 people were arrested in the western city of Rennes where six police officers were slightly injured and six protesters were hurt by large riot control pellets fired by police.

The movement has posed the biggest challenge to Macron’s authority since he came to office in May 2017, although it faces increased infighting as some members have sought to run in upcoming European Parliament elections.

Macron’s popularity has recovered from lows reached in the wake of violent clashes during protests in December, after he launched a series of debates across the country aimed at reconnecting with voters particularly in rural areas.

He received a mostly warm welcome on Saturday at an annual farm show in Paris, taking selfies with the public and chatting with farmers as he strolled for hours among the crowd and animals.