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.


Hong Kong police fire rubber bullets to pin back campus protesters

Updated 13 min 52 sec ago

Hong Kong police fire rubber bullets to pin back campus protesters

  • Dozens tried to flee the Polytechnic University after a night of mayhem in the Chinese-ruled city
  • Police urged protesters to ‘drop their weapons’ and leave

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Monday to force back anti-government protesters trying to escape a university where hundreds are holed up with petrol bombs and other homemade weapons amid fears of a bloody crackdown.
Dozens tried to flee the Polytechnic University after a night of mayhem in the Chinese-ruled city in which major roads were blocked and a bridge was set on fire and a police officer was shot by a bow and arrow.
Many were arrested near the university on Monday, public broadcaster RTHK reported, while in the nearby commercial area of Nathan Road activists stopped traffic and forced shopping malls and stores to shut.
“We’ve been trapped here for too long. We need all Hong Kongers to know we need help,” said Dan, a 19-year-old protester on the campus, as he burst into tears.
“I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this. We may need international help.”
Protesters tried to make another run for it in the afternoon but were met with more volleys of tear gas.
Thirty-eight people were wounded overnight on Sunday, the city’s Hospital Authority said. Reuters witnesses saw some protesters suffering from burns from chemicals in jets fired from police water cannons.
“Remember you have life in your hands. Why do you need to push us to death?” one person shouted at police from a campus rooftop as protesters wearing gas masks and clutching umbrellas looked for ways to escape.
Police urged protesters to “drop their weapons” and leave.
“Police appeal to everyone inside the Polytechnic University to drop their weapons and dangerous items, remove their gas masks and leave via the top level of Cheong Wan Road South Bridge in an orderly manner,” they said in a statement.
“They should follow police instructions and must not charge at police cordons.”
Live video showed protesters with their hands tied behind their backs sitting cross-legged on a road as riot police stood guard in one of the busiest commercial and tourist districts in the former British colony.
Police said they fired three live rounds when “rioters” attacked two officers who were attempting to arrest a woman. No one was wounded and the woman escaped amid a dramatic escalation of the unrest that has plunged the Asian financial hub into chaos for almost six months.
Demonstrators angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in Hong Kong’s promised freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are responding to excessive use of force by police.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula granting Hong Kong autonomy, with the city’s police accusations they use undue violence.
The city’s Cross-Harbor Tunnel, next to the Polytechnic university, linking Hong Kong island to the Kowloon peninsula, remained closed after protesters torched a bridge above the toll booths on Sunday.
Some train services and many roads across the Kowloon peninsula were closed. All schools were shut.
As police approached the barricaded front gate of the university in the predawn hours, protesters retreated into the campus and started fires at the gate and a footbridge.
Some protesters discussed trying to leave, while others reinforced barricades and carried boxes of petrol bombs to positions around the complex.
Thousands of residents and protesters flocked to districts around the university including Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan and Yau Ma Tei, to try to penetrate the riot-police lines to rescue the trapped students.