French to mark three months of ‘yellow vest’ protests

Paris: Demonstrators are to hit French city streets again on Saturday, marking three months of “yellow vest” protests as a poll now suggests that most of the country wants them to stop. The number of those attending the weekly rallies has dropped since 287,000 turned out on November 17, the first Saturday of protest. And for the first time, a poll found on Wednesday that more than half those questioned felt it was time to end the protests. On February 9, the 13th weekend of anti-government actions, 51,000 people took to the streets according to police, though protest organisers put the figure at 118,000.
Violence has marred nearly every large-scale rally.
In Paris, where 4,000 gathered last week, clashes broke out outside the National Assembly building where one demonstrator lost a hand, reportedly as he tried to bat away a stun grenade.
Masked activists tried to break down barriers protecting the parliament but were repelled by police firing tear gas and grenades.
As the march continued, vandals burned rubbish bins and cars and smashed bus shelters, cash machines and shop windows along the route.
One of the torched vehicles belonged to Sentinelle, an anti-terrorism unit. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner expressed his “indignation and disgust” in a tweet.
Some 550 shops have been damaged by protesters in the capital since mid November. Thousands of protesters also turned out in the southern cities of Marseille, Montpellier, Bordeaux and Toulouse — strongholds of the movement — as well as several cities in the north and west of France.
The “yellow vest” movement started as a protest against rising fuel taxes, but it has become one of opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.
Speaking at a meeting with local mayors on Thursday, Macron said it was time for a “return to reason”, adding that authorities would act with “greater firmness” against violent demonstrators.
The interior ministry said 1,796 people have been sentenced for rioting or other acts of violence over the past three months, while 1,422 more are awaiting trial.
Ex-boxer Christophe Dettinger who became a hero to some protesters after beating up police officers during a demonstration in January was convicted Wednesday and given a one-year prison term. — AFP