Yellow Vests: Spur of Violence as Protests, Unrest Returns after France’s Great National Debate

Alao Abiodun
20% Complete
 19-Mar-2019

Over the weekend, on the 16th of March 2019, the Yellow vest protesters decided to set fire to stores and clashed with police in a return to violence on the streets of Paris. Protesters took to the streets of the French capital on Saturday in the fourth demonstration since unrest began in November. This outburst shows that the organizers are trying to give new momentum to their movement, after weeks of dwindling numbers.

Since the French yellow vests/Gilets jaunes movement gained international attention, protesters — some with similar grievances and others entirely unrelated — have used the yellow vest symbol in many places around the world.

Meanwhile, close to about 32,300 protesters demonstrated in France for the 18th weekend of Yellow Vest protests, according to the Ministry of Interior. In Paris, violence erupted on the Champs-Elysées Avenue, with shops looted and a building set on fire. The Yellow Vest protesters in Paris descended into violence on Saturday, as some hardline demonstrators looted and torched shops and businesses on Paris’ famed Champs-Elysees avenue.

A menswear store and the upscale Fouquet’s restaurant — a brasserie popular with politicians and film stars – were among the premises to have their windows smashed by groups of hooded demonstrators in scenes reminiscent of the worst “yellow vest” riots in Paris in December.

The demonstrators also set fire to a bank situated on the ground floor of an apartment building, which was engulfed by flames. The fire service evacuated the residents and extinguished the blaze. Eleven people, including two firefighters, suffered minor injuries, according to reports.

While many demonstrators marched peacefully, some masked activists tried to break down barriers outside the parliament. Others threw projectiles at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades to disperse crowds. The protests have brought hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets all over France.

Read Also: More Than 200 Arrested, Scores Wounded After Yellow Vest Protest Turns Violent in Paris

MORE THAN 10,000 PROTESTERS IN PARIS

More than 10,000 people demonstrated in central Paris, according to Interior Ministry figures. Of that number, about 1,500 were “ultraviolent” individuals whose aim was to cause destruction and to fight, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner disclosed.

However, the police was said to have arrested dozens of protesters and fired tear gas and water cannon in front of the Arc de Triomphe, the scene of angry protests in December.

It was alleged that the Yellow Vests protesters started bonfires, set cars alight and threw cobblestones at police as they sought to drum up new momentum for their four-month-old revolt against President Emmanuel Macron and his pro-business reforms.

PROTESTS REGAIN MOMENTUM AFTER NATIONAL DEBATE 

The 18th Yellow Vest protest comes a day after France wrapped up two months of national debate on the country’s social and economic problems. Turnout for the weekly demonstrations, held in cities across France, has been getting smaller since December, when they were overshadowed by looting and vandalism.

Up to half a million people took part in meetings held across the country to discuss topics including tax, services, unemployment and the environment. The yellow vest protests appeared to have diminished in last few weeks, with about 28,000 protesters counted nationally at last week’s demonstrations, and 3,000 in Paris — a far cry from previous figures. When the protests began, about 300,000 people were involved in a day of action to block roads and take over the streets.

It should be recalled that the protests started in response to a fuel tax increase, as part of Macron’s push for a cleaner energy policy. Macron subsequently dropped the policy and promised more than €10 billion ($11 billion) to boost the incomes of pensioners and France’s poorest workers.

Read Also: The Yellow Vest Protesters in France – A Brewing Revolution?

The movement sprang up spontaneously last year with supporters donning the luminous safety vests that are mandatory in all French vehicles. Backed by people in small towns and the countryside where most get round by car, it has snowballed into a wider movement against President Emmanuel Macron’s alleged bias towards the rich and big cities. After nationwide road blockades which has gotten people injured, arrested and dead

Macron came to power vowing to restore trust in politics, but the protests have brought widespread anger over his pro-business policies and perceived elitism to the streets. With approval ratings languishing at a high rate, many protesters regard him as arrogant and out of touch with people living modest lives in provincial France.

His government attempted to head off the protests last year by announcing a series of measures to help poorer families pay the bills, but to no avail. Macron who even addressed the nation last year, insisted that he would push on with making France’s economy greener but promising to make the transition less painful for the poor.

Act XVIII – “Ultimatum”: The 18th action of Yellow Vests

Scheduled for March 16, Act 18 of the movement took place the day after the official end of the Great National Debate with the aim of bringing together “the whole of France in Paris” to issue an “ultimatum” to the government.

On Saturday, March 16, throughout France swept the wave of nationwide protests. The 18th act of the “yellow jackets”, held under the slogan “Ultimatum. The whole of France — in Paris,” was marked by the escalation of violence. This was particularly evident against the backdrop of demonstrations a week ago, which took place in a relatively peaceful environment.

Protesters began to gather in the square of Charles de Gaulle in Paris on the morning of Saturday, after which they blocked traffic at the top of the Champs Elysees. The police had blocked the iron fences and appliances the lower part of the prospectus.

Read Also: Hundreds of ‘Yellow Vest’ Protesters Rally in London

Shortly thereafter, in the area of the arc de Triomphe and the Champs elysées, there were clashes with police. Law enforcement officers used water cannons, tear gas and traumatic guns, Flash-Ball against the demonstrators.

However, the French Senate has approved a bill that would impose new restrictions for the participants of mass demonstrations. Returning to the performances on March 16, which took place in the background of the completion of the first stage of the national debate, the protest was marked by numerous pogroms and arson, which were carried out are unknown violent protesters.

In Paris, several cars were burned, kiosks of the press and first floor of the building, which houses the office of the Bank Tarneaud were on fire. Representatives of the Paris fire Department reported that as a result of fire in a residential building, it injured 11 people, including two policemen. In the course of liquidation of the emergency situation firefighters rescued the woman and child, who were trapped on the second floor of the house.

“The perpetrators are neither demonstrators nor the bullies. They’re murderers,” said the interior Minister of France Castaner, commenting on the fire.

France’s ‘Great Debate’ is Over — So What Comes Next?

Emmanuel Macron’s initiative led to thousands of town hall meetings, and boosted the president’s ratings. But what comes after the great debate — aimed as a response to months of yellow vest protests — is less certain.

France wrapped up two months of citizen debates on Friday aimed as an immediate salve to the ongoing “yellow vest” demonstrations. But the biggest challenge lies ahead, analysts say; finding concrete solutions to a raft of long-held public grievances that go well beyond the protest movement.

For President Emmanuel Macron, who launched the so-called ‘great debate’ mid-January, the immediate takeaways have been largely positive. Up to half-a-million French participated in 10,000 meetings nationwide to discuss pre-set topics, from taxes and public services to democracy and the environment. Organizers also received more than 1.4 million online public comments, outlining other issues of concern, including jobs and immigration.

Just as importantly, Macron has seen a significant bounce in once-dismal poll ratings, even as public support for the yellow vests continues to erode. His approval rating jumped eight points by early March, to reach 28 percent. But how the crisis plays out for both sides in the coming months remains a big unknown.

“The problems start now” analyst Jean Petaux of Sciences-Po Bordeaux University told DW. “To totally finish with the yellow vests, the government has to address at least part of their demands, which are very disparate. And give the sense it is offering credible solutions.”

So far, the French president has given little indication of his long-term exit strategy. Some believe he doesn’t yet have one. One option— a referendum — is problematic both in terms of timing and the risk it may be rejected.

Macron is expected to announce the after-debate roadmap next month. “I’m not sure the government has a clear idea of what it’s going to do with this mass of information,” Reber said. “But they have all kinds of options.”

A referendum may be the most obvious path. But it raises a set of questions, analysts say, including whether to pair it with the European elections. Moreover, the French may vote down the proposals it lays out, amounting to a serious setback for Macron’s government.

Still on the great debate, which is already delivering lessons. “People are learning that politics and how to change a system is a very difficult process”. The next steps for the yellow vests are also unclear. A number of analysts believe the movement will slowly die out.

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