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Paris arrests: ‘Yellow vest’ protests stretch into ninth week

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators marched in cities across France on Saturday in a new round of ‘yellow vest’ protests against President Emmanuel Macron, accused of ignoring the plight of millions of people struggling to make ends meet.

Officials have vowed zero tolerance for the violence that has marred the weekly protests since they began two months ago, deploying some 80,000 security forces nationwide.

media_cameraMasked demonstrators gesture amid smoke of teargas canisters launched by anti-riot police in a street, in Nimes, southern France. Picture: AFP

In Paris, epicentre of the fiery street clashes and vandalism that have made global headlines, 5000 riot police were on hand, using tall barricades and armoured vehicles to lock down the central Place de la Concorde and surrounding districts.

Hundreds of officers were also on guard on the Champs-Elysees, where banks, jewellery stores and other shops had boarded up windows in anticipation of renewed looting and violence.

media_cameraFrench police detain a ‘yellow vest’ protester during an anti-government demonstration in Marseille, southern France. Picture: AFP

Yet many cafes and retailers on the iconic avenue remained open for business, as several thousands of protesters marched calmly from the Place de la Bastille toward the Arc de Triomphe early in the afternoon.

Many sang the “Marseillaise” national anthem, while others held signs saying “Insecurity is not a job!” At times the crowd yelled “Free Christophe!” in reference to Christophe Dettinger, the former professional boxer arrested last week after being filmed bashing two police officers during the Paris demos.

media_cameraFrench police clash with protesters during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘yellow vest’ movement in Strasbourg, eastern France. Picture: AFP

Police said some 30 people had been detained in the capital earlier for carrying weapons or other charges.

“We’ve come to Paris to make ourselves heard, and we wanted to see for ourselves at least once what’s going on here,” said Patrick, 37, who told AFP he had travelled from the Savoie region of western France.

In the well-heeled racehorsing town of Chantilly just north of Paris, 1000 or so protesters marched through the centre before descending on the hippodrome where they delayed the start of a race, local media said.

media_cameraPeople gather during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘yellow vests’ movement, in Bourges, France for the ninth straight weekend. Picture: AFP

And another 1200 protesters gathered in the central city of Bourges, where some ‘yellow-vest’ organisers were hoping to reach those from areas far from the capital.

Signs said “Macron resign!” and “France is angry,” while local prosecutor Joel Garrigue said five people had been detained after police discovered a cache of ball bearings during a search of their car.

The protests also spilt over the border into eastern Belgium late on Friday, where one of around 25 protesters manning a blockade died after being hit by a truck, Belgian media reported.

media_cameraProtesters clash with French police during a demonstration over the French President’s economic reforms in Strasbourg, eastern France. Picture: AFP

Officials had warned of bigger and more violent protests than last week, when demonstrators rammed a forklift truck through the main doors of a government ministry in Paris.

“Those who are calling to demonstrate tomorrow know there will be violence, and therefore they are in part responsible,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a Facebook interview Friday with Brut, a digital news site favoured by many ‘yellow vests’.

But many ‘yellow vests’ pointed to images of a police officer repeatedly striking an unarmed man on the ground during a protest last week in Toulon, accusing the police of excessive use of force.

media_cameraA riot police officer detains a protester during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘yellow vest’ movement in Strasbourg, eastern France. Picture: AFP

The movement, which began as protests over high fuel taxes, has snowballed into a wholesale rejection of Macron and his policies, which are seen favouring the wealthy at the expense of rural and small-town France.

Macron has called for a national debate starting next week to hear voters’ grievances, hoping to sate demands for more of a say in national lawmaking and tamp down the protesters’ anger.

He has already unveiled a $15 billion financial relief package for low earners, and axed the planned fuel tax hike.

media_cameraFrench anti-riot police stand amid tear gas as they clash with ‘yellow vest’ protesters in Marseille, southern France. Picture: AFP

But the public consultations risk being hobbled by record levels of distrust towards politicians and representatives of the state.

A poll by the Cevipof political sciences institute released Friday showed 77 per cent of respondents thought politicians inspired “distrust”, “disgust” or “boredom”.

And Macron may not have done himself any favours on Friday, when he told a gathering at the Elysee Palace that “too many of our citizens think they can get something without making the necessary effort.”

Originally published as Dozens arrested in ‘yellow vest’ protests

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