17 to stand trial over 'yellow vest' rampage at Arc de Triomphe

Paris (AFP)


Seventeen people will face trial over looting and vandalism at the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris during a "yellow vest" protest that degenerated into running street battles, legal sources said Friday.

Tens of thousands of people massed along the Champs-Elysees avenue on December 1, 2018, for a third major rally against President Emmanuel Macron, accusing him of neglecting millions of struggling families across France.

While many protesters marched peacefully, others torched cars and smashed shop windows while hurling rocks at security forces who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, in scenes evoking a combat zone that made headlines worldwide.

The Arc de Triomphe, which honours France's war dead, was covered in graffiti while the eternal flame over the tomb of an unknown World War I soldier was snuffed out.

Demonstrators later managed to smash their way inside the arch, ransacking the gift shop and damaging scores of artworks, requiring restoration work that totalled 1.2 million euros ($1.4 million).

The arch had to be closed entirely for over a week, while a full restoration was not completed until mid-2019.

Officials said 412 people were arrested during the December 1 protest, with 378 detained for questioning.

In their decision issued last month and seen by AFP, investigating judges admit that after over a year of inquiries, "it has not been possible to identify the instigators or even the main offenders" of the Arc de Triomphe rampage.

But the 17 charged will face charges including "aggravated destruction," theft and unauthorised entry into a historical site.

The judges noted that four of the suspects were accused of trying to make off with postcards, books, miniature Eiffel Tower souvenirs or even a reproduction flintlock pistol from France's late-19th Century Second Empire period.

The yellow vest protests persisted for several months into 2019 and forced Macron's government to make major concessions on tax policy and spending to quell anger over his policies and governing style.