French ‘gilets jaunes’ protests turn violent on the streets of Paris

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Posted on: The Guardian | November 24th, 2018

Clashes broke out between crowds and police on the Champs Élysées in the second weekend of demonstrations.

Violence erupted on the Champs Élysées on Saturday as police clashed with “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) protesters reportedly infiltrated by the far right.

Gendarmes and riot police used teargas and water cannon to disperse the crowd after they came under a hail of missiles.

The authorities had banned the “gilets jaunes” from gathering at a certain site, hoping to contain what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. The demonstrators had promised to bring Paris to a standstill in this second weekend of protests.

Thousands had travelled from across France to show their anger at the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the government.

The interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said 8,000 protesters had arrived in Paris by mid-morning, 5,000 of them on the Champs Élysées, which had been closed off.

The protest was initially sparked by rises in fuel tax, but has turned into a more general expression of grievances against Macron, who is seen as out of touch with the daily concerns of ordinary French people outside the capital.

The authorities had tried to contain the demonstration around the Champ de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower, and had sealed off a number of roads in the capital, particularly those around the Élysée Palace.

By mid -morning, the protest had drifted towards the Champs Élysées, where it quickly degenerated.

As the violence erupted many gilets jaunes, surrounded by riot police, tried to walk away.

“It’s a handful of rioters causing trouble. All we want is to exercise our right to protest,” said one angry protester. “We’re not going to fight with the police, we’re not here for that.”

Castaner blamed the far-right leader Marine Le Pen for the violence.

“This week we see an evolution [in the protest] … Marine Le Pen urged people to come to the Champs Élysées. There are members of the ultra-right putting up barriers on the Champs Élysées. Our security forces perfectly anticipated this situation.”

Castaner described rioters as “seditious”. “They have responded to Marine Le Pen’s call and want to take the institutions of state. We want people to be responsible.

“The right to demonstrate is a fundamental right and we will protect that, but we cannot protect those carried away by violence … those who only want to protest should pull back from this violence and denounce it.”

In response, Le Pen, head of the far right Rassemblement National (National Rally) party, previously the Front National, told BFMTV the accusations were unjust.

She blamed the violence on “a few rioters”.

“Why did Mr Castaner let these people on to the Champs Élysées? He is responsible. It’s a strategy of tension,” she said.

Le Pen accused the minister of trying to discredit the gilets jaunes.

A week ago, around 280,000 gilets jaunes took part in protests at more than 2,000 locations across France. The demonstrations left two dead and more than 600 injured.

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On Friday, a man wearing a high-visibility yellow vest and claiming to have a grenade demanded Macron grant the gilets jaunes an audience. The man was arrested after several hours of negotiations in Angers.

The local prefect, Bernard Gonzales, said the explosive device, currently being examined by experts, was “not fake”.

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