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'Yellow Vest' protesters keep up pressure on unrepentant Macron

Philippe Huguen, AFP | Yellow vest protesters are set to gather for an eighth day of protests on January 5, 2019.

France's Yellow Vest protesters gathered in cities throughout the country on Saturday in "Act VIII" of their movement against French President Emmanuel Macron's economic policies.

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The Yellow Vests movement, named after the hi-vis jacket worn by its protesters, called for people to gather at symbolic and historical sites across France – from the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, to the Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, and the Place du Capitole in Toulouse.

The first protests of 2019 could be more heated after one of the faces of the leaderless movement, Eric Drouet, was detained on Wednesday for organising an undeclared protest. Drouet, who was later released on Thursday afternoon, was amongst those who called for a demonstration on the Champs-Élysées on December 1, a protest that escalated into the worst violence the French capital had seen in more than five decades. More than 100 cars were set on fire, the Arc de Triomphe was vandalised and balaclava-clad protesters fought running battles with police.

Drouet is already facing trial for carrying a wooden stick at a previous protest, which is considered a weapon.

This mock-up map created by French daily Le Parisien and shared by a French journalist on Twitter shows possible routes protesters can take on their marches in Paris on Saturday.

No hi-vis jackets for Saturday's protests

For Saturday's protests, Yellow Vests urged their fellow demonstrators to take to the streets without donning their signature hi-vis clothing, so that they draw less attention from police.

The French government has dialled back the number of police deployed across the country, to 3,600 riot police and officers. Paris authorities won’t be using water cannons or armoured riot vehicles, as they have done in previous weeks.

A women-only Yellow Vest protest has also been organised for Sunday in the capital, garnering a lot of support on social media. It’s the first time that women have broken off from the broader movement to launch their own demonstration.

Support for the movement has waned in recent weeks, with some 12,000 protesters showing up on the Champs-Élysées on the final Saturday of 2018 – a sharp decline from the 40,000 protesters in the French capital in "Act II" of the demonstrations.

Attendance throughout the country also dwindled. Some 282,000 protesters on November 17 had dropped to 66,000 by December 15, according to government statistics. But the Yellow Vests are keen to show that the movement hasn’t completely died out, and that their anger and discontent remains unchanged.

The movement began in November last year over a hike in fuel taxes, but quickly escalated into an expression of wider discontent against Macron’s economic policies.

Spurred by anger over a perceived squeeze on household income, the movement has shaken Macron’s presidency and hurt retailers and other businesses.

In mid-December, following weeks of protests, Macron was forced to make concessions. He scrapped the controversial fuel tax rise, promised extra cash for minimum wage earners and tax cuts for pensioners.

Macron vows to push ahead with reforms

Macron, who swept to power in May 2017 promising to transform France, is vowing to keep reforming the country and pushing ahead with changes to France's national unenmployment insurance and pension system.

"We must probably make further changes, be more radical," said Macron in comments reported by government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux after the first Cabinet meeting of the year on Friday.

Griveaux called on the French to express their views during a "national debate" organised in the coming weeks in all regions, rather than by taking to the streets.

He called those who are still protesting within the yellow vest movement "agitators who want insurrection and to overthrow the government".

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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