Tens of thousands take to streets in Act 9 of ‘Yellow Vest’ protests

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Tens of thousands of French “Yellow Vest” protesters marched through Paris Saturday for a ninth straight weekend as others took to the streets in the central city of Bourges to denounce President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.

Paris police fired water cannon and tear gas to repel “Yellow Vest” demonstrators around the Arc de Triomphe as scuffles broke out between police and protesters near the monument. Police established a car ban on the nearby Champs-Élysées avenue.

Around 32,000 demonstrators were on the streets of French cities and towns at 2pm Saturday, according to the French Interior Ministry.

Paris police say 40 people were arrested Saturday before and during the protests, primarily for carrying potential weapons.

Meanwhile, around 4,800 yellow vest protesters, according to local authorities were marching in Bourges, a provincial capital with a renowned Gothic cathedral and picturesque wood-framed houses. Online groups mounted calls over the past week for actions in the town because of its location in the center of France.

Authorities deployed 80,000 security forces nationwide for the anti-government protests. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner threatened tough retaliation against rioters and their backers, warning of increasing radicalisation among the largely peaceful demonstrators.

The movement waned over the holidays but appears to be resurging, despite Macron’s promises of billions of euros in tax relief and an upcoming “national debate” to address demonstrators’ concerns. Protesters want deeper changes to France’s economy and politics, seen as favoring the rich.

Paris police said they wouldn’t let down their guard, and deployed armored vehicles, horses and attack dogs around the city. Subway stations and some shops closed, notably around government buildings and the Champs-Elysees, the sparkling avenue whose luxury boutiques have been hit by repeated rioting in past protests.

Arrests before Saturday’s protests

Paris police said in a statement they made several arrests before Saturday’s actions, notably in France’s historic Gypsy or traveler community, which has called for protests in support of a boxer caught on video punching police last weekend in central Paris.

That incident dominated French media over the past week and prompted fears of resurgent tensions between protesters and police. Boxer Christophe Dettinger turned himself in to police and is in custody pending trial.

Other protests are planned in several French cities Saturday, but many actions aren’t officially declared in advance and pop up in unexpected places. Last Saturday, authorities estimated 50,000 people protested nationwide, including 3,500 in Paris.

The protests started with drivers opposing fuel tax increases, which is why participants wear the fluorescent vests French motorists must keep in their vehicles. But it has mushroomed into a broad-based revolt against years of shrinking purchasing power and Macron’s pro-business policies.

Some yellow vest groups hope to translate that into votes in the European elections in May.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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