France Gears Up for 19th Round of Yellow Vest Protests
Saturday marked the 19th weekend of the Yellow Vest protests in France, which began in November as an angry public reaction to an increase in fuel taxes. Since then, the protests have become a movement against President Emmanuel Macron’s elitist policies, chiefly his abolition of the wealth tax in France. Macron has criticized workers who lost their jobs, calling them “illiterate” and “lazy,” and differentiated people “who are successful” from those “who are nothing.”
Over the past four-and-a-half months, the weekly Saturday yellow vest protests have been marked by violence from casseurs — groups of young people notorious for destroying things — and Black Bloc militants. The “Yellow Vest” movement, named for the activists’ use of safety jackets French drivers must keep in their cars, has been simmering quietly for some months, but protest violence spiked on Mar. 16. Rioters looted and destroyed local luxury businesses and money is now being raised in support of owners whose kiosks were burned.
In response to the March 16 violence and vandalism, security measures were markedly increased in preparation for Saturday’s protests. In Paris, French police banned yellow vest protesters from Champs-Elysées, where businesses were destroyed the previous weekend. Didier Lallement replaced Michel Delpuech as the city’s police chief.
Lallement commented on March 16 that police had taken more “proactive” steps to “immediately put a stop to violence or destruction.” Demonstrators marched Saturday on a designated route from southern Paris to the Sacré-Coeur cathedral.
In Paris, around 6,000 police officers and two drones were deployed. President Macron received criticism for deploying soldiers trained in anti-terrorism to cover sensitive sites so police could maintain order.
There were 5,000 yellow vest demonstrators in Paris and 40,500 nationally in cities including Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse, Montpellier and Nice. Though Saturday’s turnout was only a fraction of November’s original 250,000, there were still about 200 arrests in the weekend's chaos. Some yellow vests near Boulevard de Strasbourg set bins on fire and police fired tear gas on protesters.
In Nice, 73-year-old Genevieve Legay fell and hit her head on a metal post during a police charge while demonstrating in a banned area. A lawyer for Legay’s family stated that they are filing a complaint for “wilful violence by armed persons holding public authority on a vulnerable person,” according to the BBC.
Macron opined in an interview published Monday in Nice Matin that Legay failed to act “responsibly,” adding that “fragile” people should not demonstrate in “places that are defined as prohibited.”
Though yellow vest participation has decreased over the course of the movement’s lifespan, citizens’ anger and the protesters’ momentum are unlikely to die down completely anytime soon.