Sporadic clashes but low turnout in French ‘yellow vest’ protests

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Yellow vest protesters march in Paris, France, Saturday, May 11, 2019. Yellow vest protests are taking place for the 26th consecutive week to challenge President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies. (AP)
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A woman holds balloons representing the number 26 during a demonstration called by the “Yellow vest” (Gilets jaunes) movement on May 11, 2019 in Nantes, western France. (AFP)
Updated 11 May 2019

Sporadic clashes but low turnout in French ‘yellow vest’ protests

PARIS: “Yellow vest” protesters gathered in Paris and other French cities Saturday for the 26th straight week of rallies against President Emmanuel Macron, with scattered incidents of violence but overall a marked decline in the size of the crowds.
Several hundred people began marching near the Jussieu university in the center of the capital, chosen to show solidarity with teachers who went on strike this week against an education reform project.
“It’s going to be a day in support of parents, families and everyone in the education system,” Jean-Christophe Valentin, a city hall worker at the rally, told AFP.
With protests outlawed on the Champs-Elysees and a large part of central Paris, organizers had called for “national” rallies in the cities of Lyon and Nantes.
Around 2,000 to 3,000 people turned out in each city, AFP journalists estimated, confirming the decline in attendance since the protests began in November, when it hit a high of 282,000 across France.
The interior ministry said late Saturday that 18,600 people participated in protests across France, including 1,200 in Paris.
That was the lowest level yet recorded for the protests, though yellow vest organizers contested the figure, saying they had counted more than 37,000 protesters.
“I’m starting to think this isn’t doing anything,” said Christine Sawicki, a 51-year-old accountant at the rally in Paris.
Tensions flared in Nantes when police charged a group of people throwing rocks and other objects, with at least one person evacuated by “street medics” among the protesters.
Officials had said they had expected up to 500 far-left agitators in the city near France’s western Atlantic coast, rekindling fears of fresh violence by so-called “black blocs.”
A video reporter for CNews in Nantes was injured after being hit by a rubber bullet while filming the skirmish. “I’m fine because my support belt softened the impact,” Stephane Perrier told AFP.
In both Lyon and Nantes, police used tear gas to disperse crowds as some masked protesters attempted to build makeshift barricades.
Police officials said at least 10 officers were injured in the clashes, but the protesters were beginning to disperse toward 6:00 p.m. (1600 GMT).
The Saturday protests have often been marred by rioting and clashes with police, prompting a crackdown that critics say has led to a disproportionate use of violence by security forces.
Several videos taken by bystanders in recent weeks, including one showing an officer hurling a paving stone toward demonstrators at a May Day rally, have prompted inquiries by police investigators.
“There’s a bit of fatigue along with the fear of police violence,” said Thierry Boirivant, a 44-year-old accountant who traveled to Paris from the Lyon region.
“And then there’s the economic factor: it’s expensive to go protest in Paris or other cities,” he said.
Initially launched over fuel tax increases, the movement quickly snowballed into a widespread revolt against Macron, accused of ignoring the day-to-day struggles of low earners in small-town and rural France.
Several protesters are planning to run the European Parliament elections later this month, hoping to turn their movement into a sustained political force.
“I’m calling on Europeans to make an anti-Macron vote, even if he just finishes in second place, it would take him down a notch, bring him back down to earth so he can serve us instead of the rich,” Jerome Rodrigues said in Lyon.
Rodrigues has emerged as one of the government’s fiercest critics. He was already a well-known figure in the yellow vest movement when he was hit by a rubber bullet during one of the January protests and lost an eye.
“If he doesn’t want to listen to us, we will keep up until he hears us, even if it means ruining his term” as president,” he said.
In April, Macron unveiled nearly 17 billion euros ($19 billion) in wage boosts and tax cuts for low earners to quell the protests, and vowed to better address voters’ grievances after months of town-hall debates.


Germany extends distancing rules to end of June

Updated 26 min 17 sec ago

Germany extends distancing rules to end of June

  • Up to 10 people will be allowed to gather in public places but Germans should be in contact with as few people as possible
  • Merkel’s government had been embroiled in disagreements with the least-affected states, some of which wanted to open up entirely

BERLIN: Germany has extended social distancing rules aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus epidemic to June 29, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said on Tuesday.
Up to 10 people will be allowed to gather in public places but Germans should be in contact with as few people as possible, according to the rules agreed between the federal government and 16 states.
Merkel’s government had been embroiled in disagreements with the least-affected states, some of which wanted to ditch the measures and open up entirely.
Germany’s virus caseload now tops 179,000 with just over 8,300 deaths — much lower than European counterparts such as Britain, France, Spain and Italy.
“This success is mainly based on the fact that the rules on distance and hygiene have been implemented and respected,” the government and the regions said.
However, officials warned that further restrictions could be imposed if local outbreaks made them necessary.