Macron’s plan to use troops in Paris protests sparks anger

© AFP

Government bans demonstrations on Saturday in parts of the French capital

Victor Mallet in Paris  MARCH, 23, 2019- Financial Times

Thousands of mostly leftwing demonstrators took to the streets of Paris and other French cities on Saturday for the 19th consecutive Saturday of anti-establishment gilets jaunes protests, undeterred by a show of force from the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

Riot police fired tear gas in several cities to disperse bottle-throwing protesters, including in Lille in the north and Montpellier in the south — and eventually also in Paris at the end of an otherwise peaceful march across the city to the Sacré Coeur basilica in Montmartre.

There were protests in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nice and La Rochelle.

Asked in Paris why her yellow vest had “unhappy granny” written on the back, 59-year-old Laurence Gonzalvo, a social security administrator who lives in the Pigalle district of the capital, replied: “Because she’s afraid for the future of her children.” She added: “We would like a better share of the wealth . . . Many people live worse than four or five years ago.”

Yann Cardin, a 34-year-old dancer, said during the peaceful part of the Paris march that he and his companion — both carrying white flags as a sign of non-violence — were protesting “to show we won’t give in to the security-minded threats of the government in response to legitimate demands”. The marchers were expressing themselves freely “against a capitalist system that no one wants” he said.

Since the gilets jaunes protests erupted in November as a motorists’ protests against rising fuel prices because of green taxes, Mr Macron and his interior minister Christophe Castaner have struggled to try to bring an end to regular Saturday protests.

The thousands marching to Montmartre waved an eclectic selection of flags — red, white, French, Algerian, Catalan, Breton — and placards with leftwing slogans.

The demonstrations have at times been hijacked by dozens of so-called casseurs (wreckers) and militants of the extreme left and right using “black bloc” tactics to sow havoc while avoiding detection and arrest.

After an exceptionally violent Saturday a week ago during which militants rampaged down the Champs Elysées in central Paris, smashing shop windows and setting fire to Fouquet’s restaurant, Mr Macron ordered a new crackdown for today.

The government sacked the Paris police chief, deployed extra anti-terrorist troops to relieve the police of their duties guarding important buildings, and banned protests in various city centres.

Didier Lallement, the new police chief, deployed 6,000 members of the security forces in the capital on Saturday morning and said the authorities had developed more responsive tactics “so as to immediately stop violence or any destruction”.

Mr Castaner said the new hardline approach had “allowed us to maintain order and avoid excesses” during the latest day of protests. There were 40,500 demonstrators across the country, including 5,000 in Paris, compared with 32,000 the previous week, official figures showed. Protesters say the government’s numbers routinely underestimate the size of the crowds.

Hundreds of demonstrators and police officers have been injured in the confrontations over the past four months.

The movement has been evolving from its origins as a workers’ provincial protest about the cost of living into broader and more traditionally leftwing challenge to a leader perceived as an out-of-touch “president of the rich”.

Mr Cardin, the dancer, said he had demonstrated a week ago in support of action to deal with climate change, which is a cause also championed by Mr Macron. “We agree with the carbon tax. That’s why we weren’t with the gil<ets jaunes at the start,” Mr Cardin said.

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