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News > France

Thousands 'Yellow Vests' Protesters March Against Macron's Gov't Amid Heavy Police Crackdown

  • Members of the French

    Members of the French "yellow vests" movement wave French flags as they attend a demonstration against police violence. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 February 2019

Protesters decried police violence and the use of riot control guns that have injured some and disabled others during months of weekly resistance to the French government.

Several thousand "yellow vest" protesters marched through Paris and cities across France Saturday in the 12th weekend of civil disobedience against President Emmanuel Macron’s government, days after lawmakers backed a bill banning protesters from hiding their faces during demonstrations. 

Yellow Vest Leader Badly Hit in Eye by Police Rubber Bullet To Be 'Disabled for Life'

The protests -- whose name is coined from the fluorescent jackets which French motorists are required to carry in their cars in case of emergencies -- began Saturday, Nov. 17 of last year in response to plans to raise fuel taxes. 

It has since developed into a broader revolt against the government which has mobilized tens of thousands of demonstrators nationwide each Saturday for nearly three months straight.

The tactics used by police around the country have come under scrutiny, in particular the firing of “flash ball” riot guns, which have caused serious injuries, including at least one person blinded in one eye.

The government warned Friday police would not hesitate to use flash balls in case of violence by demonstrators after it was authorized by France's highest administrative court. This type of riot control gun is banned in much of Europe. 

On Saturday, protesters paid homage to those injured in the past months, denouncing the use of the weapon from police. About 1,700 demonstrators and 1,000 police officers have been injured since the protests began, according to official figures.

"It's true that this intermediate weapon can hurt, but faced with rioters, the police need it to defend themselves against those who attack them," said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.

As in previous weeks, Saturday saw protesters carrying French flags and holding signs accusing President Macron of being out of touch, and calling for referendums tabled by citizens. Those who had been injured in previous weeks of violence were put at the front of the protests with some wearing eye patches with a target sign on them.

Jerome Rodrigues, injured during clashes with police last week, holds a child's drawing depicting clashes with police at a demonstration in Paris. | Source: Reuters

In Valance in the south of France, the mayor said measures had been taken to prepare for about 10,000 demonstrators. Authorities fear about 10 percent of those could be violent rioters. The Interior Ministry said 80,000 security officials had been mobilized, including 5,000 in Paris.

On Thursday, French lawmakers backed a bill banning protesters from hiding their faces during demonstrations, reinforcing President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to push back against violent members of the “yellow vest” movement.

The bill, expected to secure approval next week, also grants police greater powers to extract "potential trouble-makers" from demonstrations.

Opponents of the “anti-casseurs” (anti-hooligan) bill accused the government of impinging on civil liberties, with the debate exposing divisions within Macron’s party, which has a comfortable majority in parliament.

“We’re not restricting freedoms, we’re ensuring that freedoms can be guaranteed,” Aurore Berger, a spokeswoman for Macron’s La Republique En Marche party told BFM TV Thursday, hours after the overnight vote.

“We’re not talking about any French citizen chosen at random, we’re talking about those who have hurt others, those who want to kill and destroy property.”

By forbidding protesters from hiding their faces, the legislation aims to make it easier to use facial recognition technology to snare rioters. Anyone who masks their face could face a year in prison and a 15,000 euro fine. Critics say it will be impossible to enforce.

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