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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 January 2019

France reeling from new round of 'yellow vests' protests

Participation was on the rise on the ninth consecutive weekend of demonstrations

Riot police forces run during clashes with protesters during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vests "Gilets Jaunes" movement, in Bourges on January 12, 2019. AFP
Riot police forces run during clashes with protesters during an anti-government demonstration called by the Yellow Vests "Gilets Jaunes" movement, in Bourges on January 12, 2019. AFP

Thousands of demonstrators turned out across France for the ninth consecutive weekend of "yellow vests" protests, with scuffles breaking out at the Arc de Triomphe and dozens arrested in Paris and other cities.

Thousands of officers were deployed across France to prevent new acts of violence and vandalism. Parts of the capital were blocked off by riot police, who used tear gas and water cannons to control the demonstrators.

The nationwide protests, which were initially ignited in November by a tax on the price of fuel, have since spiralled under control and widened to include a wide range of demands.

Some 84,000 protesters have taken to the streets on Saturday – an increase compared with last weekend – according to police estimates.

In Paris, some 8,000 demonstrators were on the streets - more than in the past two weekends. According to interior ministry figures, just 3,500 people took to the streets on 5 January and 800 on 29 December.

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Some 156 protesters were arrested on Saturday and 108 remained in custody, police said.

Oer 6,300 protestors marched in the town of Bourges – home to 66,000 people – after the yellow vests group suggested on social media that its central geographical location made it easier for protesters to reach and that it had less police presence.

The local police chief banned any demonstration in Bourges, but the town nonetheless braced for violence by closing museums, clearing historical sites and removing parking meters.

In order to quell the anger and give citizens a say in policy, President Emmanuel Macron proposed a nationwide “great national debate”. The series of meetings will kick off Tuesday, but questions remain as to whether the government will take their outcome into account. A poll by Odoxa found that seven out of ten French voters did not think the debate will be useful for the country.

Two recent polls have shown approval ratings for Mr Macron and the prime minister rising again, albeit remaining beneath the symbolical threshold of 30%.

The French president will have to win back support before the May 2019 European elections, where polls have shown far-right candidate Marine Le Pen nudging ahead of his party La Republique en Marche.

A counter protest against the yellow vests (gilets jaunes) demonstrators has been scheduled for 27 January in Paris.

Updated: January 13, 2019 04:31 PM

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