France 'yellow vest' protests: 211 arrested, 89000 police deployed across country

Darnell Taylor
December 8, 2018

Crowds of yellow-vested protesters angry at President Emmanuel Macron and France's high taxes tried to converge on the presidential palace Saturday, some scuffling with police firing tear gas.

A source close to the operation told AFP that at least 34 people were arrested for carrying masks, hammers, slingshots and rocks that could be used to attack police.

Some 8,000 officers and 12 armoured vehicles have been deployed in Paris alone, and almost 90,000 in the country as a whole.

The "yellow vest" movement began three weeks ago in opposition to a rise in fuel tax, and have caused violence, tear gas and arrests.

The Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum were among tourist attractions that remained closed, fearing damage after rioting and looting last Saturday that saw 130 people injured. The Nicolas wine chain, one of France's biggest retailers, canceled all its wine tasting sessions scheduled for Saturday.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 481 people had been detained in Paris as police carried out checks on people arriving at train stations and at protest hotspots such as the Champs-Elysees and Bastille monument. The Eiffel Tower and famous museums the Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre are closed. He said none of the students were injured.

President Emmanuel Macron met Friday night with about 60 anti-riot security officers who will be deployed in Paris.

Rows of riot police blocked the demonstrators' passage down the Champs-Elysees avenue toward the heart of presidential power, firing tear gas and pushing them back with shields.

Protesters, using social media, have billed the weekend as "Act IV" in a dramatic challenge to Macron and his government's policies.

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In Lyon, authorities said there were 7000 people who participated in Saturday morning's march. By mid-afternoon, more than 700 people had been stopped and questioned, and more than 400 were being held in custody, according to a Paris police spokeswoman.

Fearing last weekend's violence, the French Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, said on Monday that the event should be postponed but the organisers made a decision to go ahead with it, reported French media.

Prominent "yellow vest" protester Benjamin Cauchy has called on Mr Macron to meet a delegation to defuse a situation that he said had brought France "to the brink of insurrection and civil war". Subway stations in the centre of town were shut down. He called on peaceful protesters not to get mixed up with "hooligans". Now the demands of the "yellow vest" movement - named for the fluorescent safety gear that French motorists keep in their cars - is pressing for a wider range of benefits from the government to help workers, retirees and students.

But his climbdown on fuel taxes - meant to help France transition to a greener economy - marks a major departure for a leader who had prided himself on not giving into street protests.

"People do not want to pay large sums of order to maybe protect the environment", he tweeted.

Others have made it personal and say Macron must resign, still fuming over his decision to cut taxes for the highest earners shortly after sweeping to the presidency previous year.

Since the anti-government unrest began on November 17 in reaction to a sharp increase in diesel taxes, four people have been killed in protest-related accidents.

An apolitical movement with members who vote for parties of various stripes, the "yellow vests" have won support from everyone from far-right leader Marine Le Pen to far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon. Police removed any materials from the streets that could be used as weapons, especially at construction sites in high-risk areas.

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