Yellow Vest protests persist, three months on

Eric Fererberg, AFP | People walk down the Champs Elysees avenue on February 16, 2019 during the 14th consecutive week of Yellow vest (Gilets Jaunes) protests.

Thousands of "yellow vest" protesters marched across France Saturday, three months since the movement began and in a week that has seen growing international concern at police treatment of the protesters.


Demonstrating for the 14th consecutive weekend, just over 41,000 people turned out across the country, according to the government, well down on the 282,000 peak during the protests' early weeks.

An interior ministry statement said 41,500 people had demonstrated nationwide, 5,000 of them in Paris. Organisers of the marches, however, put the numbers far higher.

"We are 15,000, that means the movement is increasing," Jerome Rodrigues, one of the movement's better known figures, told AFP at the Paris march.

Rodrigues, along with three other people, is suing the police after being struck in the eye by a projectile he says was fired from a police riot control weapon.

On Thursday, deputies in the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the disproportionate use of force against protesters, after a debate on the use by French police of the controversial weapons.

>> READ: Top French court upholds police use of controversial rubber-ball launchers

The same day, a group of UN experts condemned what they said was the disproportionate use of force by police in response to violent demonstrators.

Slipping in the polls

Demonstrators marched down the Champs-Elysees and crossed the river Seine to Paris's up-market Left Bank district, marching peacefully but shouting anti-police slogans.

"We've done nearly all the demos," Marion, a nurse from the Paris region, told AFP.

She dismissed as a distraction French President Emmanuel Macron's "great national debate" a series of town hall meetings he launched in January to try to address the grievances of the yellow vest movement.

>> READ: A peek inside the town hall meetings triggered by Yellow Vest protests

"We don't believe in it, we won't take part in it," she said.

But a poll of 1,001 people published by Elabe on Wednesday suggested for the first time that most people (56 percent) would like the protests to end, even if a majority (58 percent) still support what the movement stands for.

And while the movement's organisers reject the official figures on turnout, the numbers are certainly down from the initial protests. Starting at 282,000 according to government estimates, they stayed higher than 100,000 for four consecutive weeks.

Back to the roundabouts

This weekend, demonstrators returned to a tactic adopted in the early weeks of the protests, occupying key roundabouts control the traffic.

Officials in the east of the country responded with a statement warning that they would not tolerate any road blocks or filtering of traffic, as has happened in the past.

Some demonstrators adopted the same tactics in the southwest.

But 58-year-old Joelle, who with around 30 other people occupied a roundabout on the outskirts of Toulouse, explained: "We came back to the roundabouts to avoid the violence that's happened up there (in the city centre."

Toulouse, which has seen some of the largest protests outside the capital, has also been the scene of clashes between police and protesters.

Thousands marched there again Saturday, an AFP journalist witnessed, and there was a strong turnout in the southwest city of Bordeaux, another stronghold of the movement.

What started out three months ago as a protest against rising fuel taxes quickly evolved into a wider opposition to Macron's style of government and policies.

Macron, under pressure from the movement reversed the fuel tax rises in December.

But he has not bowed to another of their key demands: that he reinstate a wealth tax he repealed to encourage the rich to stay in France and invest in the country.


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