Yellow vest anger burns in France, fueled by Notre Dame fire

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Protesters clash with riot police during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘Yellow Vests’ (gilets jaunes) movement for the 23rd consecutive Saturday, on April 20, 2019 in Paris. (AFP)
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Protesters clash with riot police during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘Yellow Vests’ (gilets jaunes) movement for the 23rd consecutive Saturday, on April 20, 2019 in Paris. (AFP)
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Protesters hold a banner reading “We do not have weapons, You do not have souls” during an anti-government demonstration called by the “yellow vests” (gilets jaunes) movement in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on April 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 April 2019

Yellow vest anger burns in France, fueled by Notre Dame fire

  • French police said they arrested more than 100 "yellow vest" demonstrators in Paris on Saturday
  • Clashes broke out with protestors taking to the streets for a 23rd week of anti-government marches

PARIS: French yellow vest protesters set fires along a march route through Paris on Saturday to drive home their message to a government they see as out of touch with the problems of the poor: that rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral isn’t the only problem France needs to solve.
Like the high-visibility vests the protesters wear, the scattered small fires in Paris appeared to be a collective plea to the government to “look at me — I need help too!“
Police fired water cannon and sprayed tear gas to try to control radical elements on the margins of the largely peaceful march, one of several actions around Paris and other French cities.
The protesters were marking the 23rd straight weekend of yellow vest actions against economic inequality and President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which they see as favoring the wealthy and big business at the expense of ordinary workers. Protesters see themselves as standing up for beleaguered French workers, students and retirees who have been battered by high unemployment, high taxes and shrinking purchasing power.
Associated Press reporters saw a car, motorbikes and barricades set ablaze around the Place de la Republique plaza in eastern Paris. The smell of tear gas fired by police mixed with the smoke, choking the air.
Paris firefighters — who struggled earlier this week to prevent the 12th-century Notre Dame from collapsing — quickly responded to extinguish the flames at Saturday’s protest.
One masked protester dressed in black jumped on a Mercedes parked along the march route, smashing its front and back windshields.
Paris police headquarters said authorities detained 137 people by early afternoon and carried out spot checks on more than 14,000 people trying to enter the capital for Saturday’s protests.
The tensions focused on a march of several thousand people that started at the Finance Ministry in eastern Paris to demand lower taxes on workers and retirees and higher taxes on the rich.
Another group of about 200 people tried to march to the president’s Elysee Palace in central Paris, but riot police blocked them at the neo-classical Madeleine Church.
Yet another group tried to demonstrate yellow vest mourning over the Notre Dame blaze while also keeping up the pressure on Macron. They wanted to march to Notre Dame itself, but were banned by police, who set up a large security perimeter around the area.
One protester carried a huge wooden cross resembling those carried in Good Friday processions as he walked on a nearby Paris embankment.
Many protesters were deeply saddened by the fire at a national monument . But at the same time they are angry at the $1 billion in donations for Notre Dame renovations that poured in from French tycoons while their own economic demands remain largely unmet and they struggle to make ends meet.
“I think what happened at Notre Dame is a great tragedy but humans should be more important than stones. And if humans had a little bit more money, they too could help finance the reconstruction work at Notre Dame. I find this disgusting,” said protester Jose Fraile.
Some 60,000 police officers were mobilized for Saturday’s protests across France. The movement is largely peaceful but extremists have attacked treasured monuments, shops and banks and clashed with police.
The heavy police presence meant subway stations and roads around Paris were closed Saturday, thwarting tourists trying to enjoy the French capital on a warm spring day.
“Paris is very difficult right now,” said Paul Harlow, of Kansas City, Missouri, as he looked sadly at the damaged Notre Dame.
He and his wife Susan were in Paris only for a few days and didn’t make it in time to see the cathedral. On Saturday, their efforts to visit museums were derailed by closed subways and barricaded roads.
“I don’t think we’ll be back,” he said.
Other visitors showed solidarity with the yellow vest cause.
“I am not interested in joining them, but I can understand what they’re angry about,” said Antonio Costes, a retiree from the Paris suburb of Montreuil who came Saturday to see the damage to Notre Dame. “There is a lot of injustice.”
Macron had been scheduled to lay out his responses to yellow vest concerns on Monday night — but canceled the speech because the Notre Dame fire broke out. He’s now expected to do so next Thursday.
Some yellow vest critics accuse Macron of trying to exploit the fire for political gain. One protester carried a sign targeting Macron that read: “Pyromaniac — we are going to carbonize you.”
Another huge sign read: “Victor Hugo thanks all the generous donors ready to save Notre Dame and proposes that they do the same thing with Les Miserables,” referring to the famed author’s novels about the cathedral and the struggles of France’s poor.
Some prominent yellow vest figures who had stopped protesting said they were returning to the streets Saturday out of an even greater sense of being overlooked since the Notre Dame tragedy.
Anti-rich messages have flourished on social media in recent days as yellow vest protesters exhorted wealthy donors to be more generous with France’s working class.


US officials block police ‘extreme tactics’ as protests enter 12th day

Updated 56 min 39 sec ago

US officials block police ‘extreme tactics’ as protests enter 12th day

  • A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other ‘less-than-lethal’ devices
  • Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were suspended without pay on Thursday

WASHINGTON: Officials across the United States are moving to rein in police following accusations of excessive force being used against demonstrators, with protests over the killing of a black man in custody set to enter their 12th day on Saturday.
George Floyd, 46, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has ordered that all flags at state facilities be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday in honor of Floyd, who was originally from the state’s Fayetteville city.
On Friday, marches and gatherings took place in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, New York and Denver, among other places, while protesters massed again, in the rain, in front of the White House. The night-time protests were largely peaceful but tension remains high even as authorities in several places take steps to reform police procedures.
A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other “less-than-lethal” devices such as flash grenades, with his ruling citing examples of protesters and journalists being injured by police.
“These are peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and medics who have been targeted with extreme tactics meant to suppress riots, not to suppress demonstrations,” US District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in the ruling.
In Minneapolis, Democratic city leaders voted to end the use of knee restraints and choke-holds, where pressure is applied to the neck, while California Governor Gavin Newsom said he would end state police training of carotid restraints similar to the technique used on Floyd.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state should lead the way in passing “Say Their Name” reforms, including making police disciplinary records publicly available as well as banning choke-holds.
“Mr Floyd’s murder was the breaking point,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement. “People are saying enough is enough, we must change.”
Black Lives Matter activists have called for cities to defund police departments. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat who in April proposed increasing law enforcement funding, this week reversed course and said he would seek some $150 million in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department.

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In another sign of how attitudes have changed, National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had made mistakes in not listening to players, in a video denouncing racism in the United States.
The NFL has been locked in a debate with players over kneeling protests during the playing of the national anthem.
Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were suspended without pay on Thursday and placed under investigation after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground.
But the decision was met with pushback from the officers’ colleagues, with all 57 members of the police tactical unit quitting in protest at their treatment.
The demonstrations have erupted as the public and businesses struggle to recover from sweeping lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Disease experts have said the protests could spark new outbreaks.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has sparred with US President Donald Trump over his sometimes heavy-handed response to the rallies and marches in the nation’s capital, had the slogan “Black Lives Matter” painted in massive yellow letters on a street leading to the White House.
After nightfall, Bowser had light projections spelling out the words beamed onto nearby buildings, which she said on Twitter was a “night light” aimed at Trump.