Protests dwindle in Paris as Gilets Jaunes hit by torrential rain

Wednesday, 19 Dec, 2018

Groups of defiant "yellow vest" demonstrators faced off with tens of thousands of police around France on Saturday, but the protest movement appeared to have lost momentum on a fifth and decisive weekend.

Officials say the number of participants and arrests were lower compared to previous weeks.

An estimated 66,000 people took to the streets across France, according to figures from the interior ministry at 6:00 pm, 1700 GMT, half the level of a week ago.

Riot police fired small amounts of tear gas to disperse groups of protesters who headed down the side streets off the French capital's famed Champs-Élysées boulevard, some with traffic still flowing.

Pierre Lamy, a 27-year-old industrial worker wearing both a yellow vest and a French flag over his shoulders, said the movement had long stopped being about the fuel tax hike that sparked the protests in November but was now focused on economic justice. AAP But the move was seen as too little, too late by the protesters, who held a fourth round of protests on Saturday to press for further concessions on reducing inequality.

On Wednesday night, French police were sent to reopen a major road in Burgundy where "people identifying themselves as yellow vests" blocked about 200 trucks for several hours, local authorities said.

Demonstrators run away through tear gas during scuffles on the Champs-Elysees, Dec. 15, 2018, in Paris.

On the same day in the Netherlands, "yellow vests" turned out in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague to protest the high cost of living, but they were few in number and the demonstrations were peaceful.

Protests dwindle in Paris as Gilets Jaunes hit by torrential rain
Protests dwindle in Paris as Gilets Jaunes hit by torrential rain

"One stage is behind us, certainly, and I think that that is in everybody's interest, including the yellow vests", Education Minister Michel Blanquer said. Despite calls from authorities urging protesters to stop the protests, the movement rocking the country has showed no signs of abating.

A total of 89,000 police officers are on duty in the country, 8,000 of which are in Paris together with 14 armored vehicles.

"It would be better if they could go about their business calmly on Saturday, before celebrating with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work again", he said.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, defended the jailing of an elderly rights activist over calls to protest, stressing he wanted to prevent events like France's "yellow vest" revolt. "So let's know how to exercise it", the French government tweeted, showing a 34-second video that began with images of historic French protests and recent footage of "yellow vest" protesters rallying peacefully before turning to violence. Protesting is not smashing our heritage.

The government has announced a six-month consultation with civil society groups, mayors, businesses and the protesters to discuss tax and other economic reforms. With the protesters vowing to remain at the barricades until their demands are met, Macron's first public remarks on the crisis in over a week are being billed as the most important of his presidency. But he has so far refused to reinstate a wealth tax that was lifted to spur investment in France.

He added that there would be a debate on the holding of referendums to help decide government policy - one of the protesters' key demands - saying they could be a "good tool of democracy".

But she said the measures announced by Macron - and his televised appearance during which he seemed more humble and heartfelt than before - may have swayed some people. "It needs order. It needs to function normally again".

As well cancelling fuel tax increases that were due to kick in next month, Macron said he would increase the minimum wage by 100 euros a month from January and reduce taxes for poorer pensioners, among other measures.