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Turnout in French Yellow Vest protests falls to lowest yet

François Guillot, AFP | Yellow Vest protesters rally in central Paris on June 1, 2019.

Yellow Vest demonstrators gathered on Saturday for a 29th straight weekend of protests against police violence and President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms, but turnout was the lowest in more than six months.

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Some 1,500 protesters rallied peacefully in Paris, according to the French Interior Ministry, with less than 10,000 protesting nationwide.

The low turnout underscored the decline of a grassroots movement that brought up to 300,000 people to the streets of French towns and cities at its peak in late 2018.

“We’re not giving up! The media say our movement is dead, but they’re wrong,” said Sandrine, a 53-year-old protester from the Paris suburbs who claimed she attended every rally since November 17.

“There may be a lull in the summer, but the movement will kick off again in September,” she warned.

Other veteran Yellow Vests were less optimistic.

"This is the first time we see so few people in Toulouse, it's painful to see," said Josiane, a pensioner from the southwestern city that was long a bastion of the protest movement.

"The powers above are too strong," she added. "In the end we obtained nothing, only insults and beatings."

>> Read more – Yellow Vests, six months on: Unprecedented fury, uncertain future

Named after the high-visibility jackets worn by participants, the protests began in opposition to fuel tax increases before spiralling into a broader revolt against the government and the high cost of living.

The movement has hampered Macron's efforts to push his reform agenda and forced him into costly concessions, but it has been tarnished by violent confrontations with police.

The latest demonstrations came a day after Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said policemen and gendarmes who had used “unfounded” or “disproportionate” force on protesters would face trial.

French police have come under heavy fire over the use of non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas after photos of protesters suffering gruesome head injuries circulated on social media.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet in March urged France to conduct a full investigation into the excessive use of force against the protesters.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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