115 people detained in 'yellow vest' protests in Paris as French police deploy in force

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Published 15.12.2018 13:46
Updated 15.12.2018 23:56
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French police on Saturday said 115 people had been taken into custody in a day of mainly calm protests in the French capital that left seven people slightly injured.

Yellow Vest protests, which started as a reaction to fuel tax hikes and evolved into an uprising against French President Emmanuel Macron, continued Saturday despite the government's call to halt it.

The number of people arrested last week during same hours was over 500.

Police put the number of protesters in Paris at about 3,000, compared to 10,000 a week ago, when protests degenerated into violence and looting for the second week in a row.

The French press quoted authorities as saying that 33,500 protesters turned out nationwide Saturday, less than half the number of the previous week.

The protesters gathered on the Champs-Elysees and the Opera Square once again in the fifth weekends of the demonstrations.

One protester got his eye injured, when a teargas capsule hit him, according to some protesters, and he was referred to a hospital.

Around 89,000 police officers have been deployed across the country.

On Thursday, Maxime Nicolle, one of the prominent figures of the Yellow Vest movement, said they will hold protests despite the government's calls to stop after Strasbourg shooting.

Since Nov. 17, thousands of protesters wearing bright yellow vests -- dubbed the Yellow Vests -- have been gathering in major French cities, including the capital Paris, to protest Macron's controversial fuel tax hikes and the deteriorating economic situation.

The "yellow vest" movement, which takes its name from the fluorescent safety vests French motorists must all have in their vehicles, emerged in mid-November as a protest against fuel tax increases. It soon morphed into an expression of rage about the high cost of living in France and a sense that President Emanuel Macron's government is detached from the everyday struggles of workers.

"Respect my existence or expect my resistance," read one banner held aloft by some of the thousands of protesters who began converging on the Champs-Elysees on Saturday morning.

"We're here to represent all our friends and members of our family who can't come to protest, or because they're scared," said Pierre Lamy, a 27-year-old industrial worker wearing a yellow vest and with a French flag draped over his shoulders as he walked to the protest with three friends.

He said the protests had long stopped being about the fuel tax and had turned into a movement for economic justice.

"Everything's coming up now," Lamy said. "We're being bled dry."

On Friday, Macron called for calm during the demonstrations, and the French government reiterated the call online for demonstrators to remain peaceful.

"Protesting is a right. So let's know how to exercise it," the government tweeted from its official account, with a 34-second video which begins with images of historic French protests and recent footage of "yellow vest" protesters rallying peacefully before turning to violence.

"Protesting is not smashing. Protesting is not smashing our heritage. Protesting is not smashing our businesses. ... Protesting is not smashing our republic," the video says.

Macron acknowledged in a speech earlier this week that he is partially responsible for the anger displayed during the protests, and has announced measures aimed at improving workers' spending power. But he has so far refused to reinstate a wealth tax that was lifted to spur investment in France.

"I don't think our democracy can accept to function with a dialogue that is carried out only with the occupation of the public domain, only by elements of violence," Macron said Friday.

But on the streets of Paris on Saturday, some protesters were saying the president still didn't understand them.

"I think that Macron isn't in touch with what the yellow vests want. I think the yellow vests need to continue speaking out and the problem is that in the countryside," said Julie Verrier, a protester from Picardie in Normandy in northern France who had been participating in protests there for the past three weeks and had travelled to Paris for Saturday's demonstration.

"Local city halls are closed so we can't go there to express and write our complaints and our wishes," she said. "So coming here is the only way we have to say that French people need to be heard."

During demonstrations, at least four people have been killed and more than a thousand others wounded.

The French President Macron said that taxes on overtime pay would be abolished as of next year and announced social security tax cuts for pensioners earning less than €2,000.

However, the protesters have found President Macron's statement "insufficient."

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