Yellow vests, opponents gearing up for protests in France
PARIS (AP) — Thousands of demonstrators will again take to the streets across France this weekend in protest at French president Emmanuel Macron's policies, while anti-yellow vest groups also plan to use street action, to condemn violence.
More than two months after starting their revolt over fuel tax increases, yellow vest protesters remain mobilized and have called for an 11th straight weekend of protests.
About 84,000 people protested last weekend, around the same number as the week before, and despite a slight rise in Macron's approval rates in the latest opinion polls, protesters are expected to turn out in large numbers Saturday.
The next day, a demonstration will be organized in Paris by the "Red Scarves," a group created on Facebook denouncing the street violence that has accompanied some yellow vest protests. About 2,000 people have been injured since last November as demonstrations often descended into violence with clashes between police and yellow vests.
Ten people have also been killed in road incidents since the protests started on Nov. 17.
The No. 2 Interior Ministry official, Laurent Nunez, said Friday that police will "systematically intervene" to stop violence and eventual pillaging "always with the same firmness to quickly re-establish order."
Police armed with guns firing non-lethal rubber balls — which have seriously injured a number of demonstrators — also will be equipped with body cameras in an experiment to record use of the weapons, providing context and eventual evidence if needed, Nunez said.
Responding to controversy over the weapons, referred to as LBDs, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced plans for body cameras earlier this week to try to quell concerns.
The counter-demonstration on Sunday indicated that some citizens are growing weary of the yellow vest protests that have had a wide-ranging impact on France.
"It's like if we were experiencing an attempted coup where people want to depose the president, or the National Assembly to be dissolved," Laurent Soulie, one of the organizers, told the RMC channel. "This is a march to defend our freedom, and to ask for the end of violence."
Macron's party "Republic On The Move" has opted against attending the march, but some of its members have said they will take to the streets anyway.
Meanwhile, Macron has intensified his commitment to the national debate — his idea of a three-month scan of the country punctuated with meetings across France that he hopes will help him appease the social anger.
Macron has already canceled a fuel tax hike and released other funds to help French workers. He is still facing a long list of demands ranging from the re-introduction of France's wealth tax on the country's richest people to the implementation of popular votes that would allow citizens to propose new laws.
On Thursday, Macron traveled to the southern Drome department where he made an unannounced visit to take part in a local debate in the presence of dozens of residents.
Confronted by a yellow vest activist questioning his legitimacy, Macron said he would not give in to pressure from the street.
"I can't accept a system in which people are proud not to vote, then when they disagree block roundabouts. This is not democracy," Macron said, referring to the many road blockades set up by protesters over the past two months.
The yellow vest movement was named after the fluorescent garments French motorists must carry so they are visible if they need to get out of their vehicles in a place that could be unsafe.
The protests started in November to oppose fuel tax hikes and have expanded into broader public rejections of Macron's economic policies, deemed by opponents to favor the rich.