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Thousands of 'yellow vests' hit French streets in fifth Saturday of protests

Christian Hartmann, Reuters | Yellow vests gather in front of Paris' Opéra on December 15, 2018.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of French cities on Saturday in the fifth weekend of nationwide demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron's government, despite calls to hold off after a shooting in Strasbourg earlier this week.

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France's interior ministry said that the number of Yellow Vest protesters in France was estimated at 33,500 at midday, around half the level of a week ago.

Police in Paris said fewer than 3,000 had gathered in the capital for the fifth consecutive Saturday of demonstrations, which have are currently relatively peaceful. So far, 46 have been arrested compared to 335 last Saturday.

The Interior Minister said around 69,000 police officers were active on Saturday with a reinforced presence in the cities of Toulouse, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne. In the French capital, police were out in force to contain possible outbursts of violence. But several major stores, such as the Galeries Lafayette, were open to welcome Christmas shoppers.

On the Champs-Elysees, a handful of topless activists from the feminist protest group Femen faced security forces a few meters away from the Elysee Palace, the president's residence.

>> 'All smoke and mirrors': Yellow Vest protesters reject 'crumbs' offered by Macron

The protests began on November 17 over fuel tax increases, but snowballed into a revolt over living standards as well as Macron's perceived indifference to the problems of ordinary citizens.

France "needs calm"

On Friday, President Macron called for a return to calm in France after nearly a month of protests by the so-called 'yellow vest' movement against his government's policies. The demonstrations have hit growth and caused widespread disruption.

"France needs calm, order and a return to normal," Macron said, after a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels.

Successive weekends of protests in Paris have lead to vandalism and violent clashes with security forces.

In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Macron scrapped a fuel tax increase slated for January, a core demand of the protesters, who mainly live in rural areas and smaller towns and rely heavily on their cars.

Macron also announced a hike in the minium wage, tax relief on overtime work and a rollback on taxes for many pensioners.

Watch Macron's address on the Yellow Vest protests

While some of the movement's representatives have said they are open to halting the protests to negotiate with the government, others have said Macron's concessions are not enough.

Strain on security services

The government, as well as several unions and opposition politicians also called on protesters to stay off the streets on Saturday, after four people were killed in a gun attack at a Christmas market in the historic city of Strasbourg.

>> Strasbourg shooting: tourists and locals among the victims

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux called on the anti-government protesters to be "reasonable", citing the strain on security forces after the attack in on Tuesday evening.

"It would be better if everyone could go about their business calmly on Saturday, before the year-end celebrations with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work once again," he added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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