THOUSANDS of anti-government demonstrators marched through Paris and other French cities at the weekend in protests marred by sporadic clashes with police which suggested that President Emmanuel Macron has not yet succeeded in quelling the discontent.
The movement began as a revolt against rising fuel and living costs but turned radical on the fringes as it grew to encompass broader anger over the government’s economic policies. Some 69,000 people took to the streets nationwide on the 11th consecutive weekend of rallies against the Macron government, including some 4,000 in Paris, the interior ministry said, down from an estimated 84,000 protesters across the country last Saturday. Police said that 65 yellow vests had been arrested in Paris, and that 23 remained in their custody on Sunday evening.
As in previous weeks, protesters waved French flags and held placards branding “King Macron” as out of touch, while others called for a so-called RIC – citizens’ initiative referendum –, a popular vote that would allow ordinary citizens to propose new laws.
Marches were broadly peaceful, but incidents were reported in several towns, including in the capital, where Jerome Rodrigues, a prominent yellow vest activist, suffered a serious eye injury, adding to recent controversy over police violence.
Video images show the 40-year-old construction worker splayed on the ground near the Bastille monument, where protesters hurling projectiles clashed with police, who responded with tear gas, water cannons, dispersal grenades and so-called flash ball pellet guns.
While a police source told the news channel BFM TV that Mr Rodrigues had been hit in the eye by grenade debris, his lawyer has rejected this claim, telling BFM that his client had been hit by a flash ball pellet gun and deliberately targeted by police.
Mr Rodrigues, for his part, decried on Sunday an “attempted murder orchestrated by a police officer mandated by Macron and his dog, [Christophe] Castaner”.
He filed a complaint against the president and his interior minister later in the day.
He also fears he will be “handicapped for life,” according to his lawyer.
Mr Castaner did not respond directly to the accusations, but denounced the continuing protest violence.
“I condemn in the strongest terms the violence and damage caused again on Saturday, both in Paris and in the provinces, by thugs disguised as yellow vests,” he wrote on Twitter.
He also confirmed an internal police investigation had been launched into the incident involving Mr Rodrigues.
The yellow vest movement, named after the fluorescent jackets all French motorists are required to keep in their cars, started in November to oppose a planned fuel tax rise and rising living costs, but soon morphed into a broader revolt against Mr Macron’s liberal economic policies and perceived indifference.
To help calm the unrest, Mr Macron earlier this month launched a series of nationwide public debates that he says will help generate new policy ideas and lead to a more participative democracy.
But while support for the grassroots movement remains strong, some citizens are growing weary of the weekly protests that have rattled France, dented the economy and plunged the centrist government into its deepest crisis so far.
Some 10,000 people wearing red scarves (foulards rouges) marched through Paris on Sunday to protest acts of violence and destruction committed on the sidelines of yellow vest rallies by so-called “casseurs” – thugs and rioters from the ultra-left and ultra-right.
Participants held placards displaying slogans like “stop the violence,” “yes to democracy, no to revolution” and “hands off my Republic” in a peaceful afternoon procession that ended in Bastille square.
“We don’t share all the demands expressed by the yellow vest movement, for instance demands about overthrowing the government, brutalising institutions,” Laurent Segnis, a member of Mr Macron’s centrist La République en Marche party, said.
Others regretted that the movement is becoming increasingly radicalised, and called for citizens to defend France’s republican values.